Running through Jan. 28, 2018 in gallery four, the exhibition includes plaster models, drawings and photographs showing her working processes for the production of coins, medals and portrait reliefs.
Born in 1881 in Nottingham, England, Gillick eventually trained as a sculptor at Nottingham School of Art and the Royal College of Art. In 1952, she won a competition that placed her art inside of everyone’s pockets: her portrait of Queen Elizabeth II appeared on British and Commonwealth coinage until decimalization in 1971.
A REGULAR EXHIBITOR
Gillick was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy of Arts beginning in 1911. Her lead garden sculpture “Adam” was displayed in 1933 while a companion piece—”Eve”—was also shown at the Royal Academy and purchased from the exhibition in 1934 by Charles Boot (the entrepreneur behind Pinewood Studios) for his home, Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire. Although the whereabouts of these two lead sculptures is unknown, the exhibition features plaster casts of both Adam and Eve—on display in public for the first time ever—lent by the Gillick Estate.
Gillick was well-known during her lifetime for her medallic relief work and for the production of memorial portrait plaques for public buildings, but she is most widely remembered for her portrait of Queen Elizabeth II designed for the obverse of British and Commonwealth coinage. Gillick won the commission from a field of 17 artists when she was 71 years old, recently bereaved and in poor health.
STRIKING A BALANCE
The commission had to strike a delicate balance between traditional numismatic design and the optimistic post-war spirit of the “New Elizabethans,” which was exemplified by the 1951 Festival of Britain.
First struck in 1953, Gillick’s depiction was unconventional because the new monarch was shown uncrowned and truncated at the shoulder in a design that was informed by the early Victorian bun penny and 16th-century lettering.
Gillick worked on the portrait between March and October 1952 with one sitting and close supervision by the Duke of Edinburgh. The portrait was first modelled in wax and then cast in plaster before Gillick began to experiment with the inscription around the edge. With each variation another mould and cast were made until she had refined the design 63 times.
From the paper silhouettes Gillick made as a 16-year-old child in 1897 through to the portrait commissions of Lionel Michael Lowry Barnwell (1947), Frederic Anstruther Cardew (1950), Queen Elizabeth II (1952) and Kathleen Ferrier (1958), the exhibition covers the trajectory of Gillick’s career.
For more information, visit henry-moore.org/whats-on/2017/09/20/mary-gillick-her-art-in-your-pocket.