Maps to Memorials: Exploring the work of MacDonald Gill
A new exhibition explores the works of architect and designer MacDonald Gill, known for his colourful ‘Wonderground’ poster and his collaborations with Edwin Lutyens.
MacDonald ‘Max’ Gill (1884-1947), younger brother of sculptor Eric Gill, was a prolific architect, designer, illustrator and typographer in his own right whose work between the world wars included buildings designed in the Arts and Crafts style and decorative work on a number of Edwin Lutyens’ projects.
However, Gill became better known for his illustrative work and typography on projects as diverse as posters, book covers and maps, and these works form the focus of an exhibition at the Lettering Arts Centre in Suffolk.
Gill’s Wonderground Map of London Town (1914), which mixed a Medieval-inspired border with cartoon-like images of London buildings was immediately popular with the public when it appeared on London Underground platforms and led to a resurgence in pictorial map-making aruond the world.
Caroline Walker, Gill’s great-niece who is currently writing his biography, said: ‘You can see the architect’s eye in Gill’s Wonderground map. You can see the lines of perspectives and the vanishing points he used on the roof lines, and within the map, more important buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral are beautifully drawn.’
She added: ‘The poster is full of in-jokes – there is a picture of a plane doing a loop-the-loop, which had only just been done, and a picture of a bus which had just been brought out. It might look old to us but was very new to the passengers who saw it.’
During the First World War, the Imperial War Graves Commission formed a committee of three British architects (Edwin Lutyens, Herbert Baker and Reginald Blomfield) to design cemeteries and memorials to the war dead, and they in turn appointed a committee of three people including Gill, to design the headstones. Gill was responsible for the lettering and regimental badges which appeared in 1918 and which have been used on war memorials and headstones since.
Further typography work led to several commissions to design book jackets and to create emblems and logos for organisations as diverse as the General Post Office, Rolls Royce and the Suffolk Regiment.
The success of Gill’s Wonderground map led to numerous other map commissions for cruise ships and companies keen to emphasise their international reach. In 1940, Gill completed Tea Revives the World, a map designed to ‘cheer’ people during the Second World War.
Exhibition: Maps to Memorials – Discovering the work of MacDonald Gill, Lettering Arts Centre, Suffolk IP17 1SA, Until 12 November 2014
MacDonald Gill: A life in design
MacDonald ‘Max’ Gill’s first experience of architecture came in 1900 when, at the age of 16, he was taken on as an apprentice to a local architect in Bognor (now Bognor Regis).
After two years he moved on to work as an assistant to Charles Nicholson and Hubert Corlette, architects who worked in the Arts and Crafts tradition. Gill worked for Nicholson Corlette for five years, and during this time took courses at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in architecture and lettering.
From 1909, Gill’s lifelong collaboration with Edwin Lutyens began, including decorative work to create wind dial maps and murals for several of Lutyens’ projects.
In 1914, Gill became architect-in-residence at the Dorset estate of Ernest Debenham (owner of the famous department store) and helped to create a model farm and village in the Arts and Crafts style.
Gill also began to work on non-architectural projects, such as the Wonderground Map.
Between the wars, Gill worked on a number of Arts and Crafts-style cottages and decorative works in Sussex, as well as graphic design projects which included poster work for the General Post Office, decorations for the Coronation of George VI and murals for the Paris exhibition of 1937 and the Glasgow Exhibition of 1938.
Gill’s last work was a painting of the North Atlantic for the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth completed in August 1946. He died in January 1947.