NIGHT TREADETH ON DAY
8 1/2 x 15 x 3 1/3 in.
21.5 x 38 x 9 cm.
Rene Hague, Gill's printer married to Joanna (Joan) Hague (the artists' daughter).
With Anthony D'Offay Gallery, 1982
With Peter Nahum Gallery, 1989 from whom purchased in 1996
Anthony D'Offay Gallery, London, Eric Gill Drawings and Carvings, A Centenary Exhibition, 1982, catalogue #53, illustrated pp. 47 & 55.
Peter Nahum Gallery, London, British Art From The Twentieth Century, 1989, catalogue #4, illustrated pp. 10 - 12.
Barbican Art Gallery, London, Eric Gill: Sculpture, 1992, catalogue #102, illustrated p. 119.
Peter Faulkner, William Morris and Eric Gill, William Morris Society, London, 1985.
Eric Gill, "Inscriptions in Stone" in Writing & Illuminating & Lettering, by Edward Johnston, John Hogg, 1906.
Evan R. Gill, The Inscriptional Work of Eric Gill: An Inventory, Cassell & Co., London, 1964, (not cited).
David Peace, Eric Gill: The Inscriptions, The Herbert Press, London, 1994, (not cited).
Robert N. Taylor, The Eric Gill Collection of the Humanities Research Centre: A Catalogue, University of Texas, Austin, 1982.
The best way to introduce this extrodinarily prescient example of "concrete poetry" - now over 100 years old - is to quote extensively from the catalogue entries cited above:
From the D'Offay 1982 Centenary Exhibition catalogue #53/page 55:
These lines were written in 1891 for an embroidered hanging designed and worked by Morris's daughter May for the tester valance of his four-poster bed at Kelmscott. This passage is based on a free translation of lines 86-87 of Book X of Homer's The Oddessey, where Odysseus relates how in the land of the Læstrygons, night and day intermingle.
Then in 1989 there is the excellent entry by DAVID COHEN in Peter Nahum Gallery's catalogue #4:
The words, 'Night treadeth on day', are taken from William Morris's 'The wind's on the Wold&', a poem written in 1891:
'Night treadeth on day,
And for worse or best,
Right good is rest.'
The passage is based on a free translation of lines 86-87 of Book X of Homer's The Oddessy, where Odysseus relates how in the land of the Læstrygons, Night and Day intermingle.
These lines were embroidered by Morris's daughter, May, on the tester valence of his fourposter bed at Kelmscott. May was later a student of Gill's at the Central School. Between 1905 and 1907, Gill lived in Hammersmith, the home of Morris and his circle in their most politically active days. For Gill to choose a text by Morris to inscribe was most natural, as there was a great affinity between the two men, although Morris had died when Gill was still a teenager. Many of Gill's ideas about the evils of industrialism, the value of handicraft, socialism and medievalism derive closely from Morris. In later years, after his conversion to Catholicism, Gill tended to downplay his debt to Morris, preferring instead to trace his pedigree to Ruskin. In The Necessity of Belief, (London 1931), Gill writes of Morris:
'That great man, that most manly of great men, as sensitive and passionate as he was fearless and hot tempered, had not the mind to see the roots of the disorder. For all his humanity he did not see at what point it was that humanity was corrupted. An agnostic in revolt against a complacent Anglicism, a socialist in revolt against a mechanical industrialism, but an unbeliever! He saw no being behind doing: he saw no city of God behind an earthly paradise: he saw joy in labour but no sacrifice.'
At the time of 'Night treadeth on day', however, no such theological barrier came between the young Gill and his mentor. This inscription resonates with the romantic fervour of Gill's early attraction to Morris's poetry and politics. Gill was a man for whom the literary and formal aspects of letters were inseparable. It would not be unreasonable, perhaps, for a contemporary audience, familiar with Ian Hamilton Finlay or Tom Phillips, to view this Ketton stone carving as an inadvertent precursor of 'concrete poetry'.
David Cohen, August 1989
Finally there are a few insights regarding the physical aspects of the relief inscription noted by Judith Collins in the Barbican 1992 Exhibition catalogue entry # 102, page 119.
The letters in this relief stand out in relief form rather than being incised into the stone, and Gill occasionally favoured this style of letter-cutting during the years 1903-10. Relief letters can be found on the Crucifixion panel of 1920 (cat.6). This stone is not listed in Evan Gill's Inventory of the Inscriptional Work of Eric Gill, 1964, even though its provenance was the artist's family. In his 'Inscriptions in stone', an Appendix to Edward Johnston's seminal book of 1906, Writing & Illuminating & Lettering, Gill advises that Ketton stone is 'only suitable for large lettering'.
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