‘Ap. 16. 32/ Dear Dixon Spain:/ I shd. have written long ago/to say thank you very much/for so kindly lending your EVE/to the Venice Exhibn. They/only gave us about 3 weeks/notice & so it was impossible/to do much except borrow./I finished one new carving/which I had begun some time/ago - otherwise I was only/able to send old works. It did/seem important to get the best/& I do think your EVE is one of my best./I could because only 25/British artists were chosen & of/these only 3 sculptors - me &/Dobson & Skeaping. I shd. like to go to Venice but I/doubt if I can get off. I’m much/tied to the B.B.C. at present./ Again thank you very much./Yrs sincerely/ Eric Gill’.
Between November 1927 and February 1928 Gill carved, for his own pleasure, a pair of Bath stone figures, circa 73 cm. high, which he titled Adam and Eve. He showed them at his Goupil Gallery exhibition in March 1928, and they were bought by separate purchasers. The figure of Eve, now in Tate’s collection, depicts a chaste female nude wearing a necklace, with her arms crossed behind her back, her head tilted to one side, and her legs from the knees down concealed by drapery.
At the beginning of 1930 Gill returned to the subject of Eve, and carved this figure from the same material, but made her slightly smaller in size, and without a male companion. This Eve is a much more lively and saucy creature, who holds her drapery loosely in her left hand and the apple in her right. Unlike the earlier Eve, this one bears tiny traces of added colour, with yellow on the necklace and a tinge of red on the apple. On certain nude female figures, Gill would paint the hair and jewellery yellow, and the lips and nipples red, but some critics and purchasers requested that the red be removed from lips and nipples. Gill’s masterful skill is best displayed in the intricate details here; her cascading hair, the hint of her abdomen, the beaded necklace and the folds of the cloth. Embodying centuries of symbolism, he suggestively turns her head away from the viewer, rendering her a heady mix of shyness, vulnerability and sultriness.
Gill showed Eve in the Goupil Gallery Summer Show in June 1930, and a review in The Times for 21 June 1930 described the figure and its added colour. Eve was purchased before the Goupil Gallery exhibition, soon after Gill completed carving the work, by Lt. Colonel John (Ted) Dixon-Spain, (1879-1955). Dixon-Spain trained as an architect, his most notable commissions being the New Gallery Cinema on Regent Street and St Joan of Arc church, Farnham (1929). Dixon-Spain fought in the Second Boer War, the First World War, and was a squadron leader in the RAF during the Second World War. In 1944 he was seconded to the US army under General Eisenhower and became one of the first ‘Monument Men’, charged with recovering and restoring missing art works to their rightful owners across Europe. He and two other men were sent into mainland Europe shortly after the Normandy Landings, soon to be joined by more officers who, by Autumn 1945, had inspected 3,000 monuments and archives.
Since being loaned to the 1932 Venice Biennale, on request from Gill himself, Eve has not been seen in public or exhibited until now.
A letter written by Gill to Dixon-Spain on 16 April 1932, requests the loan of Eve for his forthcoming sculpture display in the British Pavilion of the 18th Biennale in Venice in June 1932. Gill explained that the British Council, who were organising the British Pavilion show only gave him ‘about 3 weeks notice & so it was impossible to do much except borrow… It did seem important to me to get the best I could (& I do think your EVE is one of my best) because only 25 British artists were chosen & of these only 3 sculptors – me & Dobson & Skeaping.’
We are grateful to Dr Judith Collins for preparing this catalogue entry.