Friday, 5 October 2012

Art: Jacob Epstein - a biographical sketch

Jacob Epstein was born of Russian-Polish Jewish immigrant parents in Hester Street on New York’s Lower East Side on November 10th 1880. Epstein recalled fondly his memories of childhood in his autobiography:
‘My earliest recollections are of the teeming East Side where I was born.

This Hester Street and its surrounding streets were the most densely populated of any city on earth, and looking back at it, I realise what I owe to its unique and crowded humanity. Its swarms of Russians, Poles, Italians, Greeks, and Chinese lived as much on the street as in the crowded tenements, and the sights, sounds, and smells had the vividness and sharp impact of an Oriental city.’ [1]

Epstein’s family had prospered in America; his father had owned a number of tenements. Epstein wrote that ‘we had Polish Christian servants’ who lived in the household ‘who still retained peasant habits’. [2] He wrote that, as a child, he spent many years sick at home, and during that time, spent hours alone reading and drawing, as he recalled:
‘My reading and drawing drew me away from ordinary interests, and I lived a great deal in the world of imagination feeding upon any book that fell into my hands. When I got hold of a really thick book like Hugo’s Les Misérables I was happy, and would go off into a corner and devour it.’ [3]

At school, Epstein was interested in Literature and History, but found Mathematics and Grammar to be a bore. Epstein enrolled in the Art Students’ League in New York, and took evening classes in life-drawing and began to learn how to sculpt under the instruction of George Gray Barnard, but noted that his ‘main studies remained in the quarter where [he] was born and brought up’, [4] explaining that: ‘Every type could be found here, and for the purpose of drawing, I would follow a character until his appearance sufficiently impressed itself upon my mind for me to make a drawing.’ [5]

By 1901, Epstein had decided to become a sculptor and set his sights on Paris under the romantic notion that Paris was the centre of the art world. Epstein turned down the offer of an apprenticeship with Thomas Eakins and accepted a commission to illustrate Hutchins Hapgood’s book, The Spirit of the Ghetto. Epstein’s illustrations cover what he perceived to be the everyday life of the Jewish quarter in the Lower East Side of New York. Epstein later wrote that:
‘The money I earned enabled me to get to Paris, but I went to Paris as a sculptor, and not as an illustrator or painter. What turned me from drawing to sculpture was the desire to see things in the round, and to study form in its different aspects from varying angles, and also the love of the purely physical side of sculpture. I felt here a full outlet for my energy, both physical and mental, that was far more satisfying to me than drawing.’ [6]

With the money he raised from this commission, Epstein set sail for Paris in 1902 where he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts only four days after his arrival. He remarked that he did not enjoy his time at the École des Beaux-Arts, explaining that he was treated with suspicion by other students because he was a foreigner. Epstein noted that: ‘The “foreigners” were few and unpopular, and it was not unusual for a French student to turn on a foreigner and ask him why he didn’t stay in his own country.’ [7] As well as the hostilities and occasional fights he would get into with his fellow students, Epstein found the teaching at the École des Beaux-Arts incredibly limiting. He remarked that most of his studies were spent modelling from life, drawing from casts of Michelangelo sculptures and carving copies of Italian Renaissance sculptures. Epstein felt that he was not being taught any new skills in his classes, stating that: ‘there was practically no instruction, and we were pretty well left alone to do what we pleased.’ [8] After six months at the École des Beaux-Arts, Epstein grew weary of the academic style of teaching and hierarchical nature of the institution, and after finding his work destroyed by a fellow student, he gathered up his clay and looked for another school with a less academic approach. Epstein remarked of the experience of academic art teaching, that it ‘was good training, although one learnt more from capable students than from the masters’, but he disliked the expressive limitations the academy placed upon an artist, writing that: ‘There are infinite modes of expression in the world of art, and to insist that only by one road can the artist attain his ends is to limit him. The academic mind violates this freedom of the artist to express himself as he knows best.’ [9] Soon after quitting the École des Beaux-Arts, Epstein enrolled into the Académie Julian which had fewer students than the École des Beaux-Arts. At first Epstein found the school to be an improvement in comparison with the rigid style of the École des Beaux-Arts. However, Epstein again grew weary of their style of teaching, especially the aspect where tutors would provide criticisms of each student’s work. Epstein wrote that:
‘After one or two criticisms from the master at Julian’s, I gave up taking criticism, and in my impatience always covered my figure when the master came in. He noticed me doing this one day and referred in an audible tone to “ce sauvage Américain”.’ [10]

In 1904, Epstein visited Florence and London and after seeing the British Museum decided to move to London. Epstein remarked that:
‘When thinking of leaving Paris, I determined to go to London, and see if I could settle down and work there. First impressions of the English were of a people with easy and natural manners, and great courtesy, and a visit to the British Museum settled the matter for me, as I felt like I would like to have a very good look round at leisure.’ [11]

It was also around this time that Epstein began to collect African art, with many of the works in his personal collection being purchased by the British Museum after his death.

It was on his first visit to London that Epstein met Margaret Dunlop, the woman he would soon marry and be Epstein’s wife and manager until her death in March, 1947. On his arrival to London, Epstein settled for a short time at 219 Stanhope Street in Camden Town. On impulse, he returned to New York, leaving after only a fortnight to return permanently to London.

Epstein set up studio in Fulham and worked over the next few years on honing his skills as a carver and modeller. Epstein wrote of the problems he faced while living in Fulham:
‘In these tumble-down studios in Fulham I was first made aware of the ludicrous snobbishness that artists were supposed to be free of. The other occupants of the studios were artists who were beginning their careers. [...] One day I heard that the landlady, who lived on the premises, had been requested by the artists to have me removed from the studios, as my clothes were somewhat too Bohemian for the place, not, in fact, respectable enough. [...] had it not been for the women artists in this beehive, who were all in my favour, I would have been given notice to quit “The Railway Accident”, as it was called.’ [12]

During this period Epstein acquainted himself with painter August John, draughtsman Muirhead Bone, painter Francis Dodd and the members of the New English Art Club. He produced the relief Mother and Child (1905-07), and portrait busts Italian Peasant Woman with a Shawl (1907) and Romily John (1907)

In 1907, Epstein was commissioned, through the suggestion of Francis Dodd, by architect Charles Holden to carve a series of eighteen over-life-size allegorical figures for the new British Medical Association headquarters, to be built on The Strand, London. It was working on these carvings that catapulted Epstein into the fray of controversy. From being known only to a close circle of friends, Epstein became the most famous sculptor in Britain, and remained so until his death in 1959.

On accepting the commission, Epstein moved to a larger studio on Cheyne Walk and set to work on the eighteen sculptures. His excitement and enthusiasm for the project led him later to say that: ‘I had been like a hound on a leash, and now I was suddenly set free’. [13] Epstein worked on the figures for fourteen months. He described the series to Arnold Haskell in The Sculptor Speaks, a recollection of conversations between Haskell and Epstein in 1931:
‘The figures Represent:
1. (At the East End of Strand front.) “Primal Energy”—man blowing the breath of life into an atom.
2. “Form Emerging from Chaos”—a man holding a mass of rock in the midst of which is vaguely shown the form of a child.
3. “Hygenia” [sic] [14] —the Goddess of Health, with a cup and a serpent.
4. “Chemical Research”—a man holding a retort.
5. “Academic Research”—a figure examining a scroll.
6. “The Brain”—a figure with a winged skull.
7. “Infancy”—an old woman holding an infant.
8. “Youth”—the figure of a young man with arms raised.
9. “Manliness”—a virile figure.
10. “Maternity”—a mother and child.
The other eight figures represent youth and maidenhood.’ [15]

As soon as the fourth statue was erected upon the building, the media storm began. Unluckily, or perhaps luckily for Epstein, housed directly opposite the British Medical Association Building was the National Vigilance Association, a group of self-styled moral guardians. It was the arrival of Maternity (1908) which sparked hostilities. Offended by the frank nudity of Maternity, the National Vigilance Association called in the Press and the police in an effort to get the work removed or censored. The Evening Standard began a campaign against the series, criticising Maternity for its indecency. Richard Cork, probably rightly, pointed out that: ‘Without The Evening Standard’s prompting, the probability is that nobody would have considered Epstein’s statues indecent at all.’ [16] A multitude of letters and articles were written, and protests were mounted from either side of the debate. Suffice to say, the sculptures remained in place until the building was sold to the Rhodesian government in 1934. The sculptures were subsequently mutilated on ‘safety grounds’ in 1937.

It was off the back of the controversy surrounding the British Medical Association Building statues that commissions for portraits started to be requested. His portraits, Euphemia Lamb (1908), Romily John (1909), Mrs Ambrose McEvoy (1909-10), Lady Gregory (1910) and Nan – The Dreamer (1911), were completed. Mrs Ambrose McEvoy was sold to Johannesburg art Gallery (the first of Epstein’s works to be purchased by a public collection) in 19110. Nan was purchased by the Tate Gallery a year later. During this same period, Epstein produced a number of uncommissioned allegorical carvings including Maternity (1910), Sun God (1910), Sun Goddess Crouching (1910) and Sun Worshipper (1910).

In 1910, Epstein was naturalised as a British citizen. During this year, he exhibited his work at the Allied Artists Association and at the Whitechapel Gallery. He became close friends with mason and stone carver Eric Gill, who was beginning to experiment with sculpture. During this period, Epstein and Gill made plans for an artists’ commune. The scheme would incorporate a temple and herald a new age of religious worship. Eric Gill wrote of the plan that: ‘Epstein & I have got a great scheme of doing some colossal figures together (as a contribution to the world), a sort of twentieth-century Stonehenge’. [17] This ‘great scheme’ never came to fruition due to the fact that Epstein and Gill lacked the funds for such a project.

During this period, Charles Holden commissioned Epstein for another grand work; this time, to carve the tomb for Oscar Wilde. Epstein wrote in his autobiography that:
‘I had only just finished the British Medical Association figures, and this important commission, following immediately after, was a matter of some excitement. It took some time to get started on the work. I made sketches and carried them out, I was dissatisfied and scrapped quite completed work. Finally I determined on the present design and I went to Derbyshire to the Hopton Wood stone quarries where I saw an immense block which had just been quarried preparatory to the cutting it up into thin slabs for wall-facings. I bought this monolith, weighing twenty tons, on the spot, and had it transported to my studio. I began work immediately and without hesitation continued to labour at it for nine months. I carved a flying demon-angel across the face, a symbolic work of combined simplicity and ornate decoration, and no doubt influenced by antique carving.’ [18]

It was during this period that Epstein’s relationship with Gill disintegrated and he became acquainted with poet and painter Wyndham Lewis, sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, and with the poets and critics Thomas Hulme and Ezra Pound. In 1912, the Tomb for Oscar Wilde was shipped to France to be placed in Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris. Epstein arrived in Paris shortly after the tomb’s arrival to find it covered with tarpaulin and kept under twenty-four hour guard. Although well received by the British Press, controversy had arisen in the French Press; the letter writers and protests began in earnest. The supporters of Epstein were again successful and the work was eventually unveiled in 1914 to a hostile reception. During the six months that Epstein spent in Paris, he met Picasso and Brancusi, and spent some time trying to find a studio to share with Modigliani. On his return to Britain, in November, he moved out of his London studio and moved to Pett Level, Sussex.

During 1913, Epstein worked between Pett Level and London on some of his most radical and forward-looking works: including Doves (1912-15), statues of Venus (1912-15), Mother and Child (1912-15), The Rock Drill (1913), and his figures in ‘Flenite’. Epstein also became involved in The London Group of artists.

In 1914, Epstein’s work featured in the Jewish section of the Twentieth Century Art: A Review of Modern Movements exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. During the same year, Epstein contributed drawings to the first issue of Wyndham Lewis’s Vorticist publication, BLAST. Included within BLAST was the Vorticist manifesto, which was signed by a number of artists, many of them members of The London Group, with the notable exceptions of Jacob Epstein and painter David Bomberg.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Epstein continued working. In 1915, his friend and fellow sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was killed in the trenches. Ezra Pound published a memorial to Gaudier. Epstein harboured resentment towards the way in which the merits of Gaudier’s work had been exaggerated after his death, later remarking that:
‘Lately, he has become a legend and when that happens, although a man’s work may increase in value from the sales-room point of view, its artistic importance is apt to be mis-stated. [...] Gaudier [is] beginning to be celebrated as the hero of an extraordinary romance, and known to thousands who have never seen his drawing or a piece of sculpture. I would not compare him as an artist either with Van Gogh or Gauguin, but the parallel of the legend exists. Gaudier did some very remarkable work in the short time allowed him, and would have certainly achieved something really big if he had not been killed. A great part of his life was spent finding himself artistically, and he was greatly influenced by all he saw. Chinese art in particular. He took to carving after admiring a work he saw in my studio one day and did some of his finest work in that medium. I knew him very well; the legend that has been created around him is a distorted one that does not show the man well.’ [19]

In the following year, Epstein produced portraits of T. E. Hulme (1915), Admiral Lord Fisher (1915), Mrs. Jacob Epstein with Earrings (1915), James Muirhead Bone (1915) and The Tin Hat (1915). It could be argued that his works the Tin Hat and Admiral Lord Fisher were an effort to lay the groundwork for Epstein to become an official war artist if he was ever enlisted.

In 1917, Epstein exhibited at the Leicester Galleries for the first time. The Leicester Galleries would remain Epstein’s primary dealer until after his death. During this year, Epstein began modelling The Risen Christ, work on which had to be postponed as he was enlisted to the 38th Jewish Battalion. Campaigns to keep Epstein out of the army altogether on the grounds of ‘national importance’ and campaigns for Epstein to be appointed as Official War Artist were both unsuccessful. The same year also saw the death of Epstein’s close friend and intellectual ally Thomas Hulme, who was killed in the trenches. It was at this point that Epstein turned his back on the abstraction and radicalism of the previous years, never creating abstract work again.

During this period, Epstein had an affair with actress Meum Lindsell, who became pregnant and bore his first child, Peggy Jean who was subsequently raised in the Epstein household, with Margaret acting as the child’s mother. During this year, Epstein produced his first modelled self-portrait Self-Portrait with a Storm Cap.

The following year, Epstein was stationed in Plymouth with the Army. The night before his regiment was to be shipped off to Palestine, Epstein went absent without leave. According to the reports, he was found wandering aimlessly around Dartmoor. Epstein was placed in a secure hospital and discharged in the July. During his time incarcerated, Epstein produced a number of portraits in clay and on paper of other soldiers and nurses at the facility. Upon being discharged from the Army, Epstein went back to work producing portraits of Meum Lindsell (Mask of Meum (1918) and Meum with a Fan (1918)). He also spent many hours producing portraits of Peggy Jean.

Epstein returned to public life in 1920 when he exhibited his completed The Risen Christ at the Leicester Galleries to much hostility and controversy. Epstein described the work as a complex war memorial:
‘It stands and accuses the world for its grossness, inhumanity, cruelness and beastliness, for the First World War. […] The Jew – the Galilean – condemns our wars, and warns us that “Shalom, Shalom”, must still be the watchword between man and man.’ [20]

Epstein also produced his second and final self-portrait, Self-Portrait with a Beard (1920). The work was in stark contrast to his Self-Portrait with a Storm Cap produced only three years previously. This year also saw the publication of the first monograph on Epstein’s work by musician and composer Bernard van Dieren.

The following year, Epstein was featured in Kineton Parkes’s book The Sculpture of To-Day and in Lorado Taft’s Modern Tendencies in Sculpture. Epstein began an affair with a young music student, Kathleen Garman, who after the death of Margaret Epstein in 1947 became Epstein’s second wife. Epstein and Kathleen remained in a relationship until Epstein’s death in 1959. In the same year, Epstein also met Henry Moore for the first time. During this period Epstein produced portraits of painter Jacob Kramer (1921), his First Portrait of Kathleen (1921) and continued to make portraits of his daughter Peggy Jean.

In 1922, Epstein was commissioned to produce a memorial in Hyde Park to the late naturalist W. H. Hudson. Over the next year, Epstein worked on a number of ideas for the project, finally settling of a depiction of Rima from Hudson’s book Green Mansions. Epstein was particularly interested in the moment of Rima’s death. Talking to Arnold Haskell he explained that:
‘The particular passage that appealed to me was the description of how Rima met her death:

“What a distance to fall, through burning leaves and smoke, like a white bird shot dead with a poisoned arrow, swift and straight into that sea of flame below.”

Although I read it and was moved by what I read, it is obviously impossible to give an illustration of the book in sculpture that would be generally pleasing to all its readers and at the same time good as sculpture.’ [21]

Rima was unveiled in 1925 by the Prime Minister and was the subject of the most hostile reception of any of Epstein’s works. Anti-Semitic letters were published in the Press and questions were raised in Parliament. An unsuccessful campaign was launched to have the work removed.

In 1924, Epstein produced a portrait of the author Joseph Conrad (1924) and was rejected as a candidate for the Chair of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art. On July 1st, Kathleen Garman bore Epstein’s first son, Theodore.

In the following year, Epstein was introduced by painter Matthew Smith to the model Sunita. Epstein saw Sunita as ‘of that eternal Oriental type’ [22] upon whom he would base a number of works including Madonna and Child (1926-27) and Lucifer (1944-45). Epstein also produced a number of portrait busts and drawings of her.

In 1926, Epstein exhibited his work The Visitation (1926-27) under the rather ambiguous title of A Study in an effort to avoid any controversy. Epstein explained that: ‘When I exhibited the work at the Leicester Galleries, wishing to avoid controversy, I called it “A Study”. By this disguise I succeeded for once in evading the critics, always ready to bay and snap at a work.’ [23] His tactic was successful and the work was purchased by public subscription for the Tate Gallery. On August 25th, Kathleen gave birth to their second child, Kitty. It was during this year that Epstein produced his first Madonna and Child (1926-27), a work which he would exhibit in America a year later.

In 1927, Epstein visited New York for four months. During this time he exhibited a number of works including the aforementioned Madonna and Child (1926-27) at the Ferargil Gallery. The Madonna and Child was purchased by sculptor Sally Ryan and loaned to the Museum of Modern Art until it was donated to the Riverside Church in New York in 1959. During Epstein’s stay in New York, he executed a number of portraits including the musician Paul Robeson (1927). At the time of Epstein’s visit, he was called as an expert witness at the trial actioned by US customs to ascertain whether Brancusi’s Bird in Space was a work of art or whether it should be charged a customs charge on the basis that it was considered to be manufactured metal. The case was won by Brancusi.

Epstein returned to England in January 1928 and moved to a new studio at Hyde Park Gate, London, where he remained for the rest of his life. Shortly after returning to London, Epstein received news from Margaret, who had remained in New York to tie up any loose ends and clear out their rented apartment, that Peggy Jean had been temporarily blinded by some steel debris. On their return to England, Epstein produced another portrait of Peggy Jean, this time in her state of illness: The Sick Child (1928). Reginald Wilenski remarked in his book The Meaning of Modern Sculpture that: ‘The modern sculptors regard The Sick Child as a masterpiece but not as a work of sculpture. They regard it as a pictorial masterpiece of the character of a genre portrait by Rembrandt.’ [24] That year Epstein’s work was featured in Stanley Casson’s book, Some Modern Sculptors. Epstein was also commissioned by Charles Holden for a third time, this time to carve Night and Day as part of the ‘Temple of the Winds’ project on Holden’s London Underground Headquarters at St. James’s Park underground station.

In 1929, Epstein completed carving Genesis (1929) a work which Epstein described thus:
‘I felt the necessity for giving expression to the profoundly elemental in motherhood, the deep down instinctive female, without the trappings and charm of what is known as feminine; my feminine would be the eternal primeval feminine, the mother of the race. […] She is serene and majestic, an elemental force of nature. How a figure like this contrasts with our coquetries and fanciful erotic nudes of modern sculpture. At one blow generations of sculptors and sculpture are shattered and sent flying into the limbo of triviality, and my “Genesis”, with her fruitful womb, confronts our enfeebled generation. Within her, Man takes on new hope for the future. The generous earth gives herself up to us, meets of masculine desires, and says: “Rejoice, I am Fruitfulness, I am Plentitude.”’ [25]

Night and Day was unveiled to a mixed reception. Epstein’s drawings of his various models including Sunita were published with an introduction by Hubert Wellington in Jacob Epstein: Seventy-Five Drawings. Epstein also began a series of illustrations for the Old Testament which he completed in 1931.

During 1930, Epstein produced a number of portraits including his First Portrait of Lydia (1930), Betty (1930) and Israfel (Sunita) (1930). Epstein at this time agreed to Arnold Haskell chronicling their conversations for his forthcoming book on Epstein, The Sculptor Speaks.

In 1931, Genesis was exhibited at the Leicester Galleries to a hostile reception, making Genesis the most controversial of his non-commissioned carvings to date. Genesis was toured around the country by Alfred Bossom, M.P., to raise money for various charitable causes, much to the displeasure of Epstein who declared that: ‘I am not interested in being regarded as a benefactor of mankind. I am an artist, [...] The reference to charities does not concern me in the least.’ [26] Epstein returned to carving his relief Sun God (1910) and carved Primeval Gods (1931) on the reverse side of the panel. Epstein was discussed in Kineton Parkes’s book, The Art of Carved Sculpture, with a chapter dedicated to the Temple of the Winds project. Arnold Haskell’s The Sculptor Speaks was also published that year.

The following year, Epstein exhibited his series of illustrations for the Old Testament at the Redfern gallery, London to a mixed reception. L. B. Powell’s monograph Jacob Epstein was published and Epstein was featured throughout Reginald Wilenski’s The Meaning of Modern Sculpture. During the same year, Epstein carved Woman Possessed (1932) and Elemental (1932), and modelled two portraits of the aspiring artist Isobel Nicholas.

1933 saw Epstein return to his role as book illustrator, producing drawings for Muysheh Oyved’s The Book of Affinity. Epstein also modelled a portrait of Albert Einstein, which was exhibited along with over a hundred watercolours of Epping Forest at Tooth’s Gallery in London. Albert Einstein (1933), which was universally praised in the Press, was purchased for the Tate Gallery and featured in the 166th Royal Academy summer exhibition a year later. The critic of The Times remarked that:
‘We are inclined to think that this is one of his most successful heads, for reasons which bear upon the nature of his genius. Odd as it may sound, Mr. Epstein is not at his best with subjects who are naturally “sculptural” in type. He needs complete translation into forms of bronze. With its radiating halo of hair from off the forehead, and response between the upcurved mouth and forehead lines, the head is alive with expression and yet properly “stilled” as a work in sculpture.’ [27]

A critic writing in The Manchester Guardian noted that it was a work of ‘extraordinary vitality and vision, at once realistic and imaginative’. [28]

The following year, on January 24th, Isobel Nicholas gave birth to Epstein’s second son Jackie, who was raised, along with Peggy Jean, by the Epsteins as their own child (Theodore and Kitty remained with their mother, Kathleen). During Isobel’s pregnancy, Margaret wore a pillow underneath her clothes to give the illusion of pregnancy and lied about her age on Jackie’s birth certificate to give the impression that she was the child’s biological mother. That same year, Epstein began carving Ecce Homo, a large statue of Christ in white marble. Epstein described how challenging this carving was to produce:
‘This Subiaco block of marble, when I carved it, I found the toughest, most difficult piece of stone I had ever tackled. […] Because of the hardness of the material I treated the work in a large way, with a juxtaposition of flat planes, always with a view to retaining the impression of the original block.’ [29]

In 1935, Ecce Homo was exhibited to a mixed reception; the work was praised by the art critics and slammed by the religious Right. The statue remained unsold and stood in his studio until after his death; Ecce Homo now stands in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral.

Epstein’s statues for the British Medical Association Building again featured in the press after the Rhodesian government purchased the building and saw fit to mutilate the sculptures. Epstein protested to the Rhodesian High Commissioner, recalling the affair in his autobiography:
‘An acrimonious discussion broke out and the High Commissioner aggressively declared that as they had paid for the building, they could do as they pleased with the statues. This gentleman expressed surprise that I should object to this, as I had been paid for my work and the statues no longer belonged to me. I had pointed out the vandalism of removing from a building a decoration which was a part of its fabric and which would mean the ruin of the statues.’ [30]

By 1937, amid much public protest, the statues were all mutilated beyond repair. That same year, Epstein was featured, alongside Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill, in a collection of essays by various authors, Great Contemporaries.

The following year Epstein carved Consummatum Est and produced a series of illustrations for Charles Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal.

In 1938, Epstein began work on his monumental Adam (1938-39). He was awarded an honorary degree at Aberdeen University alongside Henry Moore. The exhibition of illustrations for Fleurs du Mal at Tooth’s Gallery in London was unsuccessful, producing very few sales.

In 1939, Epstein exhibited Adam along with a number of drawings of children in the Leicester Galleries. Adam was purchased by gold miner Charles Stafford and leased out to Lawrence Wright, a Blackpool showman. Adam was exhibited as a sideshow and was later sold to Louis Tussaud’s waxworks as a permanent exhibit, to be joined later by Consummatum Est, Jacob and the Angel and Genesis.

A year later, Epstein began carving Jacob and the Angel (1940), which he exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in 1942. During 1940, Epstein also published his autobiography, the arrogantly titled Let there be Sculpture!

In 1942, Epstein was part of a two-man show at Temple Newsam House, Leeds, along with painter Matthew Smith. Robert Black’s monograph on Epstein, The Art of Jacob Epstein was also published.

In 1944, Epstein began work on Lucifer (1944-45). Exhibited a year later at the Leicester Galleries, the work was refused as a gift by the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The work was eventually accepted by Birmingham City Art Gallery in 1947. Epstein remarked that, as regards ‘the large winged figure in bronze which I called “Lucifer”. I had worked on this with great concentration for the greater part of a year and showed it at an exhibition of my work at the Leicester Galleries where it remained unsold.’ [31]

In 1946, Epstein modelled his portrait of Winston Churchill (1946), a work about which he later wrote: ‘Unfortunately it was winter and the light was far from ideal and I felt that I had made no more than an interesting character study, but still hope to develop it should the opportunity arise.’ [32] In the following year, his wife Margaret died and he began carving Lazarus.

In 1949, Epstein was commissioned to produce Youth Advancing for the Festival of Britain. Epstein discussed the work’s conception in his autobiography, writing that: ‘I conceived the idea of making a figure that would embody youthful courage and resolution and the result was the over life-size bronze entitled “Youth Advancing”. The figure was gilded and placed over a sheet of water.’ [33] He also produced one of his most vivid and well-received portrait busts, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1949).

In 1950, Epstein was commissioned by architect Louis Osman to produce a Madonna and Child for the Convent of the Holy Child Jesus in Cavendish Square, London. Unveiled in 1953, Epstein said of the work:
‘No work of mine has brought so many tributes from so many diverse quarters. One which particularly pleased me by reason of its spontaneity was from a bus driver. Halting his bus as he passed the statue he suddenly saw me standing by and called out across the road, “Hi Governor, you’ve made a good job of it.’” [34]

In 1951, Epstein modelled a portrait of poet T. S. Eliot and his completed Lazarus was exhibited in Battersea Park. Epstein also travelled to Philadelphia to make plans for the commission Social Consciousness in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. Completed in 1953, Social Consciousness was described by Richard Buckle as ‘Epstein’s answer to the Statue of Liberty’. [35] Epstein remarked on the commission in his autobiography:
‘I was asked by Fairmount Park Art Association of Philadelphia to make a work with the somewhat baffling title of “Social Consciousness”. In 1951, I went to Philadelphia to see the site and was greatly impressed by the fine natural surroundings of rocks and trees and river, and I realised that something on a heroic scale was called for. I planned a group of five figures, two of them thirteen feet in height, flanking a central figure with outstretched arms and upward glance “seated in the adamant of time”. The theme of the group of two figures on the right is the Healer succouring the down-fallen and on the left is the eternal Mother supporting future humanity.’ [36]

1952 saw a major retrospective of Epstein’s work at the Tate Gallery. The editor of The Times noted that in bringing together such an array of work it was possible to see that Epstein was not the most original or innovative of artists, and that there were other sculptors doing much finer work, and arguing that:
‘it is not only the passage of time, though this has certainly had its usual effect, which will make it difficult for many who visit the Tate Gallery to understand why he should have become such a focus of controversy. What he has done [...] is to remove the injustice often done to MR. EPSTEIN’S best work by his awkward reputation which had been thrust upon him.’ [37]

In the same year, Lazarus was also unveiled in New College Chapel at Oxford University, where a year later Epstein received an honorary doctorate.

In 1953, Epstein was commissioned to produce Christ in Majesty for Llandaff cathedral and a full-length portrait of Field Marshal Smuts in Parliament Square, a work which was criticised for appearing awkward and ungainly. In the same year, Epstein also turned down membership of the Royal Society of British Sculptors citing their indifference to his statues of the British Medical Association Building being mutilated as the reason for rejecting the invite.

In 1954, Epstein was knighted at the request of Winston Churchill. During the same year Epstein began work on Liverpool Resurgent for Lewis’s Store, a department store in Liverpool.

A year later, Epstein married his mistress Kathleen Garman, who would become Lady Epstein. Social Consciousness was unveiled in Philadelphia and Epstein received further public commissions for St. Michael and the Devil to be placed on the outer-wall of Basil Spence’s new Coventry Cathedral, and for the Trade Union’s Congress War Memorial. The same year, Epstein re-issued his autobiography, under the less arrogant title of An Autobiography. The contents of the book are exactly the same as in Let there be Sculpture! with added notes, a chapter called ‘My Place in Sculpture’ and a postscript summarising some major events since the first edition.

In 1956, Epstein was commissioned to produce a portrait of William Blake for Westminster Abbey to mark the centenary of Blake’s birth. The same year, Liverpool Resurgent and Field Marshal Smuts were unveiled.

A year later, Christ in Majesty was unveiled at Llandaff Cathedral to universal praise. The same year Epstein and his studio became the subject of a book of photographs by Geoffrey Ireland, with an introduction by Laurie Lee, Jacob Epstein: A Camera Study of the Sculptor at Work.

In 1958, Epstein was commissioned to produce a portrait of H. R. H. Princess Margaret; he also began work on his final group, The Bowater House Group.

On August 19th, 1959, Epstein completed The Bowater House Group and died in his home later that day. He was buried at Putney Vale Cemetery, with a memorial service held at St. Paul’s Cathedral on 10th November.


1 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, (Hulton Press, 1955), p.1
2 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.1
3 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.2
4 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.2
5 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.2
6 Haskell, Arnold, and Epstein, Jacob, The Sculptor Speaks, (William Heinemann Limited, 1931), p.13
7 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.13
8 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.14
9 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.14
10 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.16
11 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.18
12 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.19
13 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.21
14 The name should be spelt ‘Hygieia’
15 Haskell, Arnold, and Epstein, Jacob, The Sculptor Speaks, pp.17-18
16 Cork, Richard, ‘The British Medical Association Building’ in, Silber, Evelyn, and Friedman, Terry, Jacob Epstein Sculpture and Drawings, (The Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, 1989), p.106
17 Eric Gill to William Rothenstein, September 25th, 1910. In, Shewing, Walter, (ed.), The Letters of Eric Gill, (London, 1947), pp.32-33
18 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.51
19 Haskell, Arnold, and Epstein, Jacob, The Sculptor Speaks, pp.133-134
20 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.102
21 Haskell, Arnold, and Epstein, Jacob, The Sculptor Speaks, pp.28-29
22 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.123
23 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.112
24 Wilenski, Reginald H., The Meaning of Modern Sculpture, (Faber and Faber, 1932), p.112
25 Epstein, An Autobiography, p.139
26 Anon., ‘Epstein Unappeased’ in, The Manchester Guardian, (16th December, 1931), p.9
27 Anon., ‘Art Exhibition: Mr. Jacob Epstein’ in, The Times, (December 8th, 1933), p.12
28 Anon., ‘Our London Correspondent’ in, The Manchester Guardian (January 12, 1934), p.8
29 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.145
30 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.30
31 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.231
32 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.230
33 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.234
34 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.236
35 Buckle, Richard, Jacob Epstein: Sculptor. (The World Publishing Company, 1963), p.368
36 Epstein, Jacob, An Autobiography, p.237
37 Anon., ‘Mr. Epstein To-day’ in, The Times, (September 25th, 1952), p.7

This biographical sketch was originally published in my PhD thesis 'Carving a Legacy: The Identity of Jacob Epstein (1880-1959)' confirmed in March 2011.


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