Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Colin Gill (1892-1940)   BIOGRAPHY

View from the artist's billet, Arras, 1918
Framed (ref: 59)
Oil on canvas board, 16 x 11 3/4 in. (40.6 x 29.8 cm.)


Signed and inscribed, Colin Gill, Arras / FRANCE del. 1918 and inscribed on the reverse: 'This oil-colour painting was made by Colin U. Gill and presented to me by him. It represents the view from his billet in Arras and was painted by him during his visit to the Battlefields in 1918. A. N. Lee'
Provenance: given by the artist to A. N. Lee; thence by descent.

'My name is Lieutenant Colin Gill of the Royal Engineers - my age 26; before the war I was a painter and studied at the Slade School of Art, London University. In 1913, I was awarded the Rome Scholarship in painting .. I joined the army in 1914, went to France in 1915 and have been in the line ever since.. I have had nearly three years first-hand experience of this line and feel capable of recording my impressions in pictures which would be of assistance to the work of the Ministry of Information.' (Letter to the Ministry of Information, 22 May 1918)

By 25th June Gill had been given a six-month appointment as an Official War Artist, and had received a letter from the ministry reminding him that every work executed 'becomes the property of the Nation.' For this reason war paintings by Gill, outside the sixteen in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, are scarce.

Gill arrived in France on 8th October and returned to England on 14th December 1918. During this period he wrote regularly to Mr Yockney of the Ministry of Information to report his progress:

'9.10.18. Arras. Arrived here safely yesterday. This will be my headquarters to which I shall return every two or three days. Haven't seen Sims yet. Everyone here seems uncertain as to whether the War is over or not.'

'[No date, received 19.11.18]. I was in Mons four hours after our infantry had entered and at the close of hostilities - there was a remarkable and historic scene there .Weather is superb - but freezing hard, which with the short hours of daylight makes work somewhat difficult. Still, I am getting used now to being cold and frost-bitten! Plenty of material I want round here, but shall have to go back to strapped Arras district for certain subjects.'

'18.11.18. I shall be returning to Arras district tomorrow in search of ruins etc which are more varied and conspicuous in that area.' (Copyright: Imperial War Museum Archives).

Colin Gill (1892-1940)

Decorative and genre painter, born in Bexley Heath, Kent. He was a cousin of the sculptor and printmaker Eric Gill. He studied at the Slade School, and in 1913 won a scholarship to the British School at Rome. His scholarship was interrupted by the First World War: he served in France 1915-18 and was appointed an Official War Artist. From 1922-25 he was a member of staff at the Royal College of Art. He died in South Africa in 1940, while working on a series of murals for the Magistrates Court in Johannesburg. His work is held in the Tate Gallery and the Imperial War Museum.

Gill can lay claim both to being the first painter to win a scholarship to the British School at Rome and to have produced its most iconic image: Allegory, 1921. He also started the fruitful tradition of scholars taking up residence in the small village of Anticoli Corrardo, just south of Rome, during the hot summer months. However, like many of the Rome Scholars who came after him, there is a sense that Gill never fulfilled the remarkable promise of his early work. After returning from Italy his paintings appear to be caught uncomfortably between two desires: on one hand, to continue in the nineteenth-century tradition in which he had been trained, and, on the other, to embrace something more contemporary and avant-garde. He was a keen photographer and also a novelist.

See all works by Colin Gill