Arthur Eric Rowton Gill (1882 – 1940) was a supremely talented – yet controversial – artist. His achievements, the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral, the statue of Prospero and Ariel over the front door to Broadcasting House and his typeface, Gill Sans, to name but three of his most enduring, are there for all to see. But his failings as a human being are also well known. His unconventional views on religion, the wearing of trousers (he preferred a loose, belted smock), underwear (he typically wore none) and man’s ‘most treasured possession’ (there are 130 exquisite drawings of his own genitalia in the British Museum) set him firmly apart from the crowd. To these though, must be added the incest he committed with his own daughters and at least one of his sisters (my grandmother Angela) – and his ‘experiments’ with his dog (today we would call it nothing more than bestiality) – all of which he recorded in his diaries and which he knew would eventually see the light of day. Whether Gill should be admired for his talents or ostracised for his failings, there is no doubt that his sans serif typeface remains his most widely seen achievement.
(This essay, except where examples of other typefaces are used, is set in Joanna, a typeface Gill designed in 1930-31.)
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