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On the other side of fame: a life more ordinary: MacDonald Gill, younger brother of Eric

03/07/2012

This blog would not have been written (at least not yet) had I not had cause to pull a Ward Lock & Co guide to London from my bookshelf. It is the 42nd edition and while undated must be around the early 1920s. 

While looking for a reference (to Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais sculpture in Victoria Gardens), I came across a London Underground map tipped in. In the bottom left corner is the name MacDonald Gill (look closely at the image lower down – the lettering is all by hand). What, I thought, who is this, having forgotten all I once knew on the Gill clan.

MacDonald (also Max) was himself a letterer, craftsman and rather ‘ordinary’. This from Fiona MacCarthy’s biography (Faber and Faber, 1989, but quoting from the paperback edition of 1990, p255): ‘He too had a reputation as a letterer, had been a member of the War Graves Commission Committee and designed a standard headstone for the British Army dead of the First World War. He had specialised in decorative graphics…Compared with Eric he operated on the artistic middle ground. He was the sort of artist his father understood. Moreover, he was married (though not happily) to the daughter of a canon, whom he left eventually for the daughter of Edward Johnston. Eric’s father made it clear, from early days, that he would like it if Eric could be more ordinary, more like Max’.

And so a man’s life is written.

This picture of him is taken from that same book, dated 1930. (The extract is also the only decent mention of the man, and I have found nothing else in my collection of Gill, so far – I’d be pleased to hear from readers if they know more about Max.)

Separately, it is clear how revolutionary Pick’s map was when it was published in 1931.

PS – thanks to Michael Barker for alerting me to the fact Max was a younger brother of Eric – born 6 Oct 1884, to EG’s 22 Feb 1882. The index in McCarthy’s 1990 pbk edition is in error, but I should have taken more care.

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