Posts Tagged 'Madge Gill'

Women and the Mind Doctors: Upcoming exhibitions

Two exciting exhibitions open early next month, one of which features a number of items from the Bethlem Collection. The Freud Museum’s Mad, Bad and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors, runs from 10 October until 2 February 2014. A mix of historical objects and contemporary art  highlights the experience of women and their relationships to those who confined, cared for and listened to them.  The exhibition also shows how women today conduct their own explorations of mind and imagination in challenging works of art. Items from Bethlem include ECT machines, strong clothing and restraints and Richard Dadd’s A Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane. Bethlem Gallery artist Jane Fradgley will also have several artworks on display, from her recent show at the Institute of Psychiatry.

Meanwhile, a major retrospective exhibition devoted to another creative woman opens this weekend: Madge Gill: Medium & Visionary runs from 5 October 2013 until 26 January 2014 at Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham. With no training and no aspirations to fame, Madge Gill produced thousands of ink drawings during her lifetime. Her work remains an enigma: is it true she was inspired by an ethereal spirit guide? Was she genuinely in touch with ‘the beyond’, or was art-making a form of self therapy?

Featuring over 100 original artworks – including the ten metre calico The Crucifixion of the Soul, which has not been on display in the UK since 1979, and contextual photographs and documents, this exhibition is the first of its kind. Madge Gill was championed and collected by Jean Dubuffet, who coined the term ‘art brut’ (raw art), the precursor to the term ‘Outsider Art’. Those interested in Outsider Art might also want to visit an exhibition at St Pancras Hospital, which is on until 28 November. Epiphanies! Secrets of Outsider Art showcases up to twenty artists, from London, Australia and the USA.

Richard Dadd - Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane

Richard Dadd – Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane


Madge Gill, Spiritualism and Outsider Art

Our current exhibition British Outsider Art (which runs until 3 November), includes three works by Madge Gill, an artist whose drawings are also currently on display at the Nunnery Gallery. This Madge Gill Retrospective takes the form of three exhibitions, each one co-curated by a contemporary artist, with works drawn from the huge – and rarely seen – collection of drawings held by the London Borough of Newham (where Madge lived for much of her life).

The exhibition catalogue includes new research into Gill’s life and work byDeanna Petherbridge, Sara Ayad and Gary Haines. This includes information on her exhibitions at the East End Academies (her works were present in all but one show between 1932 and 1947), and reflections on her position in British Outsider Art, in addition to a chronology of her life personalised by details from letters. Her prolific creations, which she felt emerged under the influence of a spirit guide name Myrninerest, seem to have been an ongoing puzzle to herself and others. Thirty-five years after beginning drawing and painting, Madge wrote that “here I am with it still unsolved, & I seem to be losing my hold on life.” She died seven years later, aged 79, her house filled with the artworks she refused to sell, claiming them to belong to Myrninerest. This is reflected in the design of the exhibition itself, in which the centre-piece (pictured below) is a large bed: pull-out drawers in the frame filled with intricately patterned postcards.

Historians have often suggested a connection between spiritualism and feminism: in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, mediumship was one of the few fields in which women could gain considerable power. Many mediums, both on the public circuit and working with scientists and psychologists in an effort to document the phenomena (and mental states) arising, were female and often achieved considerable acclaim, something well-documented in Alex Owen’s The Darkened Room: Women, Power and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England (1989). The wistful quotation from Gill at the beginning of the exhibition catalogue certainly strikes a chord in this respect: “If I had been a man I would have gone abroad & studied botany.” While spiritualism is a notion that frequently receives derision today, in its heyday many people found the concepts comforting and liberating.

The Madge Gill Retrospective at the Nunnery Gallery takes place in three stages:

Friday 15 June – Thursday 16 August

Friday 24 August – Thursday 1 November

Friday 9 November – Thursday 17 January

For more information, visit the Bow Arts website.


In the Frame for July 2012

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.

 Madge Gill

Woman in Elaborate Clothes and Bonnet – Madge Gill (1884 – 1961)