Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
Sketch of a woman's face

Pictorial spiritism (a woman's drawings guided by a spirit)


Self-taught artist, Madge Gill’s work includes a series of strange drawings dictated by a spirit named Myrninerest.

There are numerous examples in the history of self-taught artists which suggest an interrogation of that which we take for granted within the universe of art. Such was the case with figures like Moondog, the blind genius of the New York streets, or Vincent van Gogh, to name but two examples. The work of many of these creators, those who’ve worked on the periphery of the art world —such as those in this collection, all diagnosed with mental illness— was called outsider art by the academic Roger Cardinal in 1972. Madge Gill, (1882-1961), is one more remarkable example of this community of rebel artists. She’s also one of the most enigmatic and fascinating.

Gill never aspired to fame, nor did she receive any training. Her work includes some large-scale works of textile art, and a good number of small ink drawings which were “dictated” by her guiding spirit, named Myrninerest —and who Gill always considered the true author of the work. (Many of the drawings are signed by him.)

Maude Ethel Eades was born in the East End of London and abandoned by her mother to an orphanage at the age of nine. Years later, she’d be introduced to spiritism by her aunt Kate. After marrying her cousin, and during the years of this unfortunate marriage, she lost two children and an eye, which was replaced with one made of glass.

At the age of 38, embroiled in a tragic present, Maude Gill made her first contact with Myrninerest, who would accompany her for the rest of her life. Gill’s spiritualist sessions resulted in ink drawings, drawn by the scarce light of candles. Some testimonies from her children tell that Gill went into trances in which, in addition to drawing, she wrote, knitted, crocheted, and played the piano. Widowed in 1932, Madge participated in her first exhibition at the age of 50.

From then on, she gained fame in her neighborhood as a medium. She organized spiritism sessions, read horoscopes, and made spontaneous predictions. How long the group sessions went on is not known, but at some point, she stopped doing them and, little by little, lost contact with the outside world. What little is known is that she never stopped making her drawings on postcards, sheets of paper, cardboard, and rolls of fabric —dictated always by her guiding spirit. Throughout her life she exhibited several more times and, it’s said that when at some point a gallery contacted her to sell the work, she refused the invitation claiming that the work didn’t belong to her but to Myrninerest.

Upon her death in 1961, Madge’s drawings and fabrics were found under her bed and in a few cupboards. The vast majority was donated by her son to the Newham Council in London, and a small part discreetly went onto the art market. Gill’s drawings reflect her very peculiar story, her strange mind, her sensitivity and spirituality. Feminine faces look out with surprise (or with sadness?), surrounded by checkered patterns, and framed in strange spaces, telling stories and secrets in but a few magical strokes.

abstract painting of a womanabstract painting of a womanabstract painting of a womanabstract painting of a womanabstract painting of a womanabstract painting of a womanabstract painting of a womanabstract painting of a woman

Images: /

Related Articles