This month’s In the Frame was written by a work experience student at the Archives & Museum. The picture chosen will be on display in our new exhibition British Outsider Art, which runs until 3 November. Readers may also be interested in a major Madge Gill retrospective, curated by Bow Arts and on display at the Nunnery Gallery in Bow until 23 August. For more information on the exhibition, visit Bow Arts. The student writes as follows:
This picture using pen and ink on cardboard depicts what it says on the tin, a ‘Woman in Elaborate Clothes and Bonnet.’ It is completely in black and grey/cardboard colour and kind of disturbing. The woman’s elaborate clothing is made up of patterns and shapes thrown chaotically together. Also, despite the diversity of the patterns and shapes on the clothing, the woman’s face is incredibly plain and petite in comparison.
I think the reason I find this picture disturbing and confusing is because it doesn’t make much sense. It’s all mangled together and has no order or structure.
I think this style could possibly reflect back onto Madge Gill’s own life, as she went through many tragic and chaotic events in her lifetime such as being an illegitimate child, sent to an orphanage when she was nine, loss of one of her three sons, giving birth to her still-born daughter and loss of the sight in one eye.
This drawing is just one of hundreds Madge Gill drew throughout her life. When she died her son found hundreds of drawings in the boxes underneath her bed, all drawn on things like postcards and cardboard because they were cheap. She spent most of her time after she lost the sight in the left eye in bed just endlessly drawing, knitting and embroidering. She most likely did this as an escape from the hard and tragic life she had lived.
Woman in Elaborate Clothes and Bonnet - Madge Gill (1884 – 1961)