08 August 2019, The Tablet

Madge Gill: A strange and creative spirit


Madge Gill: A strange and creative spirit

An untitled and undated black-ink-on-card drawing by Madge Gill
Photo: Courtesy Newham Archives and Local Studies Library

 

The artist, who claimed divine inspiration for her work, finally gets her due

“Eden Revelation by Postcard – Spirit of High Priest in Upton Park” ran a headline in the Sunday Express of 12 November 1922. Under it was an interview with housewife Madge Gill describing her compulsion to fill hundreds of postcards with a mystery script, which if deciphered would give the inside story on the Garden of Eden.

Mrs Gill did not confine herself to scribbling on postcards. Her automatic drawings in ink on calico and paper ran into tens of metres, covered in an intricate filigree of girlish faces, exotic foliage and surreal forms interspersed with chequerboard floors and flights of steps. She was equally prolific at embroidering tapestries. With no formal art training, she was undoubtedly a prodigy – but was she normal or completely mad?

Gill claimed her creations were inspired by the spirit of a high priest of ancient Babylon and that they heralded the dawn of a new era of civilisation. To her, a new era must have seemed overdue given her personal experiences of the old one, which had been harrowing enough to test the sanity of any normal woman. Born Maud Eades to an unmarried mother in Walthamstow in 1882, she had been dumped on Dr Barnardo’s at the age of nine, then shipped off to Canada five years later under a British Home Children scheme promising orphans the chance of a better life working as farmhands or domestic servants. But Madge, as she now called herself, counted her pennies and by the age of 19 had saved enough for her passage home to London – where she trained as a nurse at Whipps Cross Hospital in Leyton before marrying her cousin Tom Gill in 1905.

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