Mary Gillick: Her Art in Your Pocket

20 Sep 2017 – 28 Jan 2018

Exhibition in Gallery 4

This display is the first dedicated to Gillick’s sculpture, and presents plaster models, drawings and photographs showing her working processes for the production of coins, medals and portrait reliefs.

Trained as a sculptor at Nottingham School of Art and the Royal College of Art, Mary Gaskell Gillick (née Tutin) (1881-1965) won a competition in 1952 that would see her art in everyone’s pockets: her portrait of Queen Elizabeth II appeared on British and Commonwealth coinage until decimalisation in 1971.

Mary Gillick was born in Nottingham and studied at Nottingham School of Art (1898-1902) before completing her training at the Royal College of Art (1902-04) under the sculptor Édouard Lantéri (1848-1917). She met fellow sculptor Ernest George Gillick (1874-1951) while at Nottingham and they married in 1905, forming what was described in her obituary as ‘an ideal working partnership’ based at their studio and home at Moravian Close in Chelsea from 1914.

Gillick was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1911, with her lead garden sculpture ‘Adam’ being displayed in 1933. 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’ lent by the Gillick Estate, which are on display in public for the first time.

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 seventeen when she was seventy-one years old, recently bereaved and in poor health.

“A deliberate - and refreshing - break with tradition… The new portrait returns to the secrets of pure proportion.”

Humphrey Sutherland, Deputy Keeper of Coins at the Ashmolean Museum


The commission had to strike a delicate balance between traditional numismatic design and the optimistic post-war spirit of the ‘New Elizabethans’ exemplified by the 1951 Festival of Britain. First struck in 1953, her 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 sixteenth-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, when 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 sixty-three times.

“A talented and sensitive sculptress [whose] deeply laid convictions and her training caused her to work in the academic tradition of the west, though she always had sympathy and understanding for what younger artists were doing so long as this was based on technical competence. ”

Gillick’s obituary in the Times


The Gillicks were firmly embedded in the world of inter-war and post-war British sculpture, with Sydney Cockerell, Kenneth Clark, Meredith Frampton, Gertrude Hermes, Laura Knight, Eric Kennington, Gilbert Ledward, Alfred Munnings and Charles Wheeler among their friends and acquaintances.

From the paper silhouettes Gillick made as a sixteen-year-old in 1897, we follow the trajectory of her career through the portrait commissions of Lionel Michael Lowry Barnwell (1947), Frederic Anstruther Cardew (1950), Queen Elizabeth II (1952) and Kathleen Ferrier (1958) from the Sculpture Collection and Archive of Sculptors’ Papers of Leeds Museums and Galleries.

Venue details

Venue address

Henry Moore Institute
The Headrow
United Kingdom
T: 0113 246 7467

Opening times

Galleries: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm

Research Library: Monday to Saturday, 10am - 5pm
Archive of Sculptors' Papers: Tuesday to Friday, by prior appointment

Comments (2)

Janice Street Deal

24 June 2021 18:44

I have a 1955 gilick coin and I recognized the lady on it, I had recently found the same person in my genolagy journey, I believe....I believe Mrs gilick wound up in Jasper county Missouri and just today I read about Henry Moore, coinmedenttly, my great great grandfather is William Henry Moore, that is definitely worth researching... What a beautiful story, plus another one...thank you very much for publishing this....

Katherine Smith

2 August 2017 20:17

So pleased at last that she is being recognised in her own right as a woman artist. I am biased as her great niece but what she achieved against a background of prejudice and patriarchy was quite breathtaking. Congratulations on the exhibition!

David Cotton

David Cotton | Web Editor, Henry Moore Institute

4 August 2017 14:43

Thanks Katherine, we think so too! We'll be holding a discussion about your great aunt on Saturday 18 November which you would be very welcome to come along to. The focus will be on her sculptural work, and coin design more generally, but I'm sure the topics you mention will be brought under the spotlight too.

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