Back to article index


                                                                                                      Photo by S.Bowness
The damaged statue

On the 12th January 2022 there was an attempt to destroy, or at least damage the statue, Prospero and Ariel, installed outside the BBC's Broadcasting House in London, on the grounds that the sculptor, Eric Gill, was a 'paedophile'. A petition has been launched on the website of the left wing petition organiser, 38 degrees, calling for the removal of the statue.  At the time of writing (February 2022) it has nearly reached its target of 3,000 signatures. Save the Children has withdrawn its recommendation that one of the many type-fonts developed by Gill - Gill Sans - should be used in its publicity material.

In the course of the media response to the attack, Gill was described as a 'known paedophile' who 'sexually abused his two eldest daughters' (Daily Mail) (1) and 'a monster, a depraved paedophile who abused his daughters and others ... a man who committed horrific sexual crimes' (BBC). (2) The Wikipedia entry on Gill has a section on his 'sexual crimes.' The 38 Degrees petition reads:

Please sign to demand that the BBC remove the sculpture depicting a naked child, created by known paedophile Eric Gill, which is above the main entrance of BBC Broadcasting House. 
Gill had an incestuous relationship with his sister, sexual relationships with two of his pubescent daughters and even his family dog. 
The BBC likes to think a naked boy submissively leaning into the raised leg of a wizard is simply a metaphor for broadcasting. To the BBC Eric Gill was a major British artist rather than a child and animal abuser.
Why is this important?
I believe that the BBC would regain some credibility with their reputation, if they were seen to act upon the image of a naked child created by a known pedophile. It will show that they do not approve of the crimes committed by their past stars, Savile, King, Hall and Harris and show that they don't condone anybody who carries out child abuse.

Comments left by signatories include: 'To have a sculpture made by a pedo outside a building that harbers [sic] pedos is a disgrace to decent normal people. pull down the statue and also the building the BBC is a disgrace to the British people'; 'The BBC are a disgrace from savil to hall and all the other monsters they helped .the pedos statue want smashed into a million bits and the building burnt to the ground';  'Because it's absolutely grim mate, how is there a child penis on a sculpture of all things?? We don't even celebrate some of our greatest heroes yet we apparently support wizards and pedos, no thanks I'll stick to dungeons and dragons' (3)

(1)  Kate Feehan:  'Man scales BBC Broadcasting House and spends four hours destroying sculpture by paedophile artist Eric Gill', Daiy Mail, 12th January 2022 - tps:// 

(2) Katie Razzall, BBC culture editor: 'The Artwork vs the artist', (13th January 2022).


The controversy, such as it is, turns on whether it is right to admire work done by a depraved monster ('Eric Gill's crimes were unforgivable, but his statue is blameless' - The Spectator'; (4) 'Eric Gill: can we separate the artist from the abuser? - The Observer) (5) and, if it is, whether such work should not be shown in a more discreet setting, perhaps adorned with some sort of explanatory text. There seems to be little disagreement over whether or not Gill can be characterised as a 'paedophile' (6) - 'a man who committed horrific sexual crimes'.

(4) Andrew Doyle: 'Eric Gill’s crimes were unforgivable, but his statue is blameless', The Spectator, 16th January, 2022,

(5) Rachel Cooke: 'Eric Gill: can we separate the artist from the abuser?', The Observer, Sunday, 9th April, 2017,

(6)  I should say that the use of the word 'paedophile' as a synonym for 'child molester' seems to me to be an abuse of language. To characterise someone who wants to rape children as a 'paedophile' is rather like characterising someone who wants to burn books as a 'bibliophile.'


I developed an interest in Gill through my interest in the French Cubist painter, Albert Gleizes. Both Gill and Gleizes were in correspondence with the Ceylonese metaphysician and writer on traditional art, Ananda Coomaraswamy. Both were fond of quoting Coomaraswamy's well-known dictum: 'An artist is not a special sort of man but every man is a special sort of artist.' Neither Gill nor Gleizes knew each other but Coomaraswamy grouped them together with himself and the American engraver (friend and correspondent of Gill), Arthur Graham Carey, as people assumed to be 'mediaevalists', though of course that wasn't how he saw it himself. He preferred the term 'traditionalist.' (7)

(7) I discuss Gleizes's relations with Coomaraswamy, with a glancing reference to Gill, in my essay 'Albert Gleizes, Ananda Coomaraswamy and "tradition"', accessible on my website at I am the author of the major study of Gleizes - Peter Brooke: Albert Gleizes - For and Against the Twentieth Century, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2001

I set about reading Gill and was impressed by his general philosophy on the nature of work and art which could perhaps be summarised in the opening two paragraphs of his essay from 1918, Slavery and Freedom:

'That state is a state of Slavery in which a man does what he likes to do in his spare time and in his working time that which is required of him. This state can only exist when what a man likes to do is to please himself.

'That state is a state of Freedom in which a man does what he likes to do in his working time and in his spare time that which is required of him. This state can only exist when what a man likes to do is to please God.' (8)

(8)  Eric Gill: 'Slavery and Freedom', in idem:Art Nonsense and other essays, London, Cassel and Co Ltd & Francis Walterson, 1929, p.1.

D.H.Lawrence, who disliked Gills prose in general ('Crass is the only word: maddening like a tiresome uneducated workman arguing in a pub - argufying would describe it better - and banging his fist') nonetheless, and despite the mention of 'God', found 'more in those two paragraphs than in all Karl Marx or Professor Whitehead or a dozen other philosophers rolled together.'

(9) D.H.Lawrence: 'Eric Gill's Art Nonsense', Book Collector's Quarterly, no XII, Oct-Dec 1933, pp.1-7, quoted in Malcolm Yorke: Eric Gill, Man of Flesh and Spirit, London, Constable, pp.48-9. Yorke goes on to quote Gill saying that Lady Chatterly's Lover 'states the Catholic view of sex and marriage more clearly and with more enthusiasm than most of our text books.'

Gill's life and work was a long protest against everything that 'art' has become in our own time. He recognised and vigorously asserted the principle put forward by William Morris that 'art' is just another word for work well done; he successfully established the kind of rural community life which provides the best conditions for such work; he recognised that the function of his own art form - sculpture - was inseparable from religion and that indeed all art, which is to say all work, can only realise its highest value if it is done in a spirit of worship; he detested the business spirit and mechanised production, always asserting the importance of the human over the economic. All that brought him very close to the thinking of Albert Gleizes, who also distrusted 'art', emphasised the importance of craftsmanship, tried (with much less success than Gill) to establish a communal way of working and living, and believed that painting and sculpture had lost their way with the Renaissance and its imitation of the external appearances of nature. Both Gleizes and Gill liked to quote the dictum of Thomas Aquinas (also favoured by Coomaraswamy): 'Art imitates nature not in its effects but in its way of working.'

It seemed to me, reading Gill, that, like Gleizes, he was one of the necessary voices of the twentieth century. The Autobiography, in particular, struck me as one of the most delightful books I had ever read. I was therefore upset when, just at the moment that I was discovering him, his reputation as a moral thinker was trashed with the publication of Fiona MacCarthy's biography. (10)

(10) Fiona MacCarthy: Eric Gill, London & Boston, Faber and Faber, 1989. The book was republished in 2017.