Max Gill was an illustrator, letterer, map-maker, architect, decorative artist and mural painter. He was particularly widely known in his lifetime for his pictorial maps and graphic designs for transport and communications companies in the first half of the twentieth century. His 1914 'Wonderground' map of the London Underground system inspired a resurgence of pictorial and decorative map-making in Britain and the United States, Latin America and Australia. The huge North Atlantic map he produced, complete with moveable crystal ship, is still to be seen on the preserved liner Queen Mary, now a hotel permanently moored in California.
The brother of artist and typographer Eric Gill, Max has been comparatively and undeservedly forgotten. The discovery by family members of a large archive of his work has provided the perfect opportunity to appreciate his achievements and reposition him as a widely recognised artist of his time. Examples of his work were admired in contemporary exhibitions as far afield as Australia. More than sixty years after it first appeared in 1940, Max's celebrated 1940 work, 'Tea Revives the World', was displayed in the British Library's Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art in 2009.
Max Gill carried out work on behalf of Empire trading interests, particularly through the Empire Marketing Board. Attracting a great deal of contemporary public interest, his advertisements raised issues of Britishness and British taste, attitudes to Empire and global trade, as well as changing approaches to cartographic representation. A member of the Art Workers Guild and student at the Central School of Art, London, Max Gill drew on a training that was influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement with its emphasis on simplicity in design, making by hand and the social importance of a well-designed environment. Gill’s work for the Imperial War Graves Commission, designing the lettering that came to be engraved on a multitude of headstones, employed such principles to great effect.From his commercial posters to his public information maps and from his humorous and populist style to his enduring memorial lettering, Max Gill’s work touches on a wide range of social, political and cultural issues of the first half of the twentieth century.
Work for the 2011 Brighton exhibition and symposium helped uncover interesting new material. A pair of tapestry panels designed in 1938 by MacDonald Gill for the Guildhall, Coventry, were rediscovered after being presumed lost for over 20 years. Gill’s Coventry tapestries were woven by the Morris Art Workers and have been found in excellent condition. Read local report from BBC Coventry and Warwickshire.