The BBC will restore a controversial statue by Eric Gill, a British sculptor who died in 1940, that sits outside its headquarters. It was vandalized last year in protest of the artist’s admitted pedophilia.
The work, which depicts Prospero and the spirit Ariel from Shakespeare’s Tempest, was attacked in 2022 by a man wielding a hammer. A second man filmed the vandalism; both were arrested. The incident reignited a long-running debate in England over how to reassess the legacy of Gill, one of the leading British sculptors and typographers of the 20th century. There have been calls to remove Gill’s numerous public artworks across the country after his private diaries—published posthumously—revealed his sexual abuse of his two teenage daughters and the family’s dog.
The artist also created the typeface Gill Sans, which remains one of the most widely used British typefaces. His sculptures are housed in major institutions, including the Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the British Museum. Gill also created popular devotional art during his lifetime, and his sculptures still adorn Westminster Cathedral. In 1998, campaigners from the organization Ministers and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors attempted to remove Gill’s Stations of the Cross from the church.
The BBC statue was commissioned by Sir John Reith, then director-general of the news agency, in the early 1930s. Gill depicted Ariel, a spirit in service to the magician Prospero, as a naked child.
Advocates have called on the BBC to remove the sculpture for decades. The broadcaster, however, has shared no plans to remove or alter the work. Following the 2022 vandalism, the company said in a statement: “When the statue was commissioned, Ariel—as the spirit of the air—was seen as an appropriate symbol for the new dawn of broadcasting.”
The statement continued: “The BBC doesn’t condone the views or actions of Eric Gill. Clearly there are debates about whether you can separate the work of an artist from the art itself. We think the right thing to do is for people to have those discussions. We don’t think the right approach is to damage the artwork itself.”