MacDonald Gill: Charting a Life

By Caroline Walker, Guest Speaker

This autumn the West Sussex Record Office is celebrating the life and work of Sussex-born artist MacDonald Gill. ‘Max’ – as he was known to friends and family – was an architect, mural painter, letterer, and graphic artist in the first half of the 20th Century, best known for his pictorial maps.

Colour map of the world showing mail routes by sea, with thick black lines linking up different labelled cities. Bordering the top is a scene of a boat being loaded with mail, and the mailmen going about collecting and delivering post. Along the botton is the evolution of ships from Anglo Saxon to the Queen Mary in the 1930s.
GPO Mail Steamship Routes, 1937

He lived in Chichester first as a boy and after WW1 he returned here with his young family, later moving to West Wittering. As a local artist/designer he was commissioned for all manner of items from small bookplates to impressive painted maps. He designed many houses in the area too, including his own home, ‘South Nore’.

He came to fame in 1914 with his whimsical map poster The Wonderground Map of London Town for the London Underground and by the 1920s he was one of the highest paid poster designers in the land. Less known are the beautiful decorative maps he painted for homes of the wealthy including Lindisfarne Castle, for Cunard liners, company boardrooms, and public buildings such as Worthing Town Hall and the Palace of Westminster.

Max’s motto ‘Lettering is decoration’  shines through in all his work from maps to memorials. Throughout his life he designed hundreds of inscriptions – several can be found in Chichester Cathedral. His most significant lettering commission, however, was for the Imperial War Graves Commission: the alphabet for the British military headstone still used today.

An example of his mural work can also be found in Chichester. The chancel ceiling in St Bartholomew’s Church – currently being transformed into an arts centre – is decorated in arts-and-crafts style with gold stars on a blue background and floral border panels.

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