Born Maud Ethel Eades in London, Madge Gill was an illegitimate child and spent much of her early years in seclusion. She was placed in an orphanage by her unmarried mother when she was nine. Eventually sent to Canada as a farm servant, she returned to London at age nineteen, where she worked as a nurse and lived with an aunt who introduced her to spiritualism. In 1907 Madge married her cousin Thomas Gill. They had four children, of whom only two survived: one died at age eight in an influenza epidemic, while another was still-born in 1919. Gill herself almost died in the process, losing the sight in her left eye from the illness that followed.
It was in that year, at the age of thirty-seven, that Madge Gill began drawing, guided by a spirit she called Myrninerest. Gill was enormously prolific, creating everything from postcards to mural-sized works on paper. Sometimes she drew on huge bolts of fabric, unrolling a section at a time and never viewing the composition in its entirety. Gill’s most common work is executed in black ink. It typically features the faces of young women emerging from an intricately patterned background. Occasionally, she also worked in colored ink and created entirely abstract compositions. Her drawings, some of which reach lengths of thirty-five feet, include patterns and designs that obsessively cover the surface. The figure of a young woman in flowing robes, who appears thousands of times in the work, may be Gill’s spirit guide or her stillborn daughter. After her husband’s death in 1933, Gill became more involved in spiritualism, holding séances at her home and making elaborate astrological compositions for friends. Although she exhibited in London’s East End at annual amateur art shows, she generally avoided selling or promoting her work, insisting it belonged to her spirit guide. She did not want to anger Myrninerest. Gill’s work only came to public notice after her death, when her surviving son contacted the local librarian and arranged for her accumulated works to be collected from the house.