Epstein - Home The New Art Gallery Walsall

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An Epstein A-Z


A is for Artist

Sir Jacob Esptein (1880 – 1959) was an artist and sculptor.
Although his watercolours and paintings were commercially
successful, he is chiefly famous for his exuberant and sensual
sculptures, which often provoked extreme public reactions.

Related Work:

Self Portrait


B is for Brzeska

Epstein met Henri Gaudier Brzeska in 1911, when Brzeska came to
Epstein’s Chelsea studio and asked to see the tomb of Oscar Wilde
which Epstein was then carving. Epstein thought that Brzeska was
“very pleasant” and the two men were interested in each other’s
work. However, their friendship was brief as Brzeska was killed in
action in 1915.


C is for Churchill

After the Second World War, when he was no longer Prime
Minister, Sir Winston Churchill lived opposite Epstein. In 1946
Churchill came to Epstein’s studio for three sittings for a bronze
bust. Three further sittings took place at Chartwell, Churchill’s
home in Kent. Epstein described Churchill as “extremely genial and
a most hospitable host.” He also observed that Churchill’s library
“seemed to consist of books on Napoleon and his ancestor the first
Duke of Marlborough.” Epstein’s bust of Churchill is in the British
Government’s art collection.

Related Work:

Bust of Sir Winston Churchill


D is for Doyle

In 1922 Epstein was commissioned by the RSPB to produce a 
memorial for the author W.H Hudson.  The memorial was unveiled
in 1925, and caused outrage on the grounds of alleged obscenity.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a signatory to a letter to The Morning
Post demanding the immediate removal of the memorial.


E is for Einstein

Albert Einstein came to England as a refugee in 1933. Epstein
arranged a week of sittings, which took place in Cromer. Epstein
worked for two hours every morning, although he claimed that
Einstein smoked so much during the first sitting that he was unable
to see anything and Epstein had to ask him not to smoke during the
second sitting. The sittings finished because Einstein had to go to
London to make a speech at the Albert Hall before emigrating to
America. Epstein exhibited the work in December 1933 and the bust
is now in the Tate.


F is for Fatherhood

Epstein fathered five children, all illegitimate. Two of these
children were brought up by his first wife,
. The other three children were raised by their mother,
, who later become Epstein’s second wife.


G is for Genesis

Epstein carved Genesis from a block of Seravezza marble he had
bough in Paris and exhibited it in 1931. He attributed the
subsequent controversy to the fact that he lived in an “emasculated
period” which “was shocked by a figure without sex appeal” or
“so-called feminine graces.” He had a foretaste of the public
reaction to the sculpture while he was still carving it at his
Hyde Park Gate studio: “…one day, lifting my head from the work,
I saw looking at me…two gardeners with their mouths agape, eyes
staring, rooted to the spot in astonishment. When I moved they


H is for Haile

Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Abyssinia, came to England in
exile in 1936. Epstein was asked by the MP Oliver Locker-Lampson to
make a portrait of the Emperor which might be used to further the
cause of Abyssinia. Locker-Lampson hoped that Epstein would
produced a work that could sell well as a reproduction and raise
money for the Emperor. This did not happen, but Epstein enjoyed the
experience of attending an African court in Kensington (the
Emperor’s attendants prostrated themselves on the ground before
their ruler) and considered that the study he produced was an
interesting one.


I is for Inspiration

Epstein amassed a huge personal collection of artefacts that he
used as a source of ideas and solutions for his own work. He
collected African, Ancient Egyptian, Native American and Near
Eastern art as well as objects from Ancient Greece and Rome, India,
China and medieval Europe. Epstein collected for aesthetic worth
and relevance to his own work, so the quality of the pieces in his
collection was variable. Although he was proud of this collection
he allowed very few people to see it, perhaps because of the
criticism he drew for collecting and being influenced by such


J is for John

Epstein met

Augustus John
in London in 1905. John made several drawing of
Epstein, and Epstein was eager to sculpt a portrait of John. The
sitting took place in Epstein’s Guildford Street studio, and
Epstein made a sketch, but this drawing was never turned into a

Related Work:

Portrait of Jacob Epstein by Augustus John


K is for Knighthood

Although American by birth, Epstein took British citizenship in
1910 and so was eligible for the knighthood he received in


L is for Liverpool

Epstein received a commission to decorate the John Lewis
department store in Liverpool in 1954. Liverpool Resurgent, a large
male bronze nude representing the rebirth of Liverpool after the
Second World War, was unveiled in 1956. According to a Liverpool
Post article in 2003, 90% of Liverpudlians refer to this statue as
Dickie Lewis.


M is for Marriage

Epstein married twice. His first marriage, to
(Peggy) Dunlop
, took place in 1907 and lasted until her death
in 1949. In 1955 he married
, who had been his mistress since the early 1920s.


N is for New York

Epstein was born at 102 Hester Street in New York. Even after he
began attending classes at The Art Student’s League in 1894 he
considered that his main studies took place in Hester Street where
he would draw the people who passed by. His family moved to 1661
Madison Avenue in 1899 but he remained in Hester Street in rented
rooms. Epstein lived in New York until he moved to Paris in


O is for Oscar

Robert Ross, Oscar Wilde’s literary executor, commissioned
Epstein to carve Wilde’s tomb. Epstein carved a large flying
angel/demon based on the Assyrian winged bull sculptures in the
British Museum. The work took nine months to complete and was first
exhibited in Epstein’s London studio, where it received favourable
press. However, when the monument was transported to Paris and
installed over Wilde’s grave in Pere Lachaise cemetery it was
covered in tarpaulin and guarded by the French police on the
grounds of indecency. Epstein refused to amend the carving, and
Ross arranged for a large brass plaque to cover the offending area
of the monument. This plaque was later unofficially removed by an
unnamed group of artists, and the monument remained covered until
the beginning of the First World War.

Related Work:

Study for the Tomb of Oscar Wilde


P is for Park

Epstein moved into 18 Hyde Park Gate, Knightsbridge, in 1928 and
lived there until his death in 1959.


Q is for Quinn

John Quinn was a New York lawyer who defined ‘art’ for the
United States Tariff law. He was one of Epstein’s earliest and most
important collectors.


R is for Rodin

Epstein considered that
had begun a new era in sculpture because he was not afraid to be
ridiculous or even grotesque. He admired Rodin’s work and
considered it underrated, in part because Rodin’s vast output made
his life’s work difficult to sum up. In his autobiography Epstein
observed that Rodin’s “fecundity tires and bewilders us all.”


S is for Sally

Sarah Tack Ryan, better known as Sally Ryan, was an American
sculptor who introduced herself to Epstein in London in 1935 and
became his only pupil. She maintained lifelong friendships with
both Epstein and Kathleen Garman and, after Epstein’s death, she
and Kathleen created the Garman Ryan collection which is now housed
at the New Art Gallery Walsall.

Related Work:

Sally Ryan


T is for Thomas

Thomas Stern Eliot
sat for Epstein in 1951 after they were
introduced by a mutual friend. They became close friends, and when
Epstein died in 1959 Eliot wrote to Kathleen Garman to tell her
that “It is as if some of my world has crumbled away.”

Related Work:

T S Eliot


U is for Underground

In 1929 Epstein was commissioned to produce two sculptures, Day
and Night,  for the new headquarters of the London Underground
Electric Railways. The commission came from the architect Charles
Holden, who had given Epstein the job of decorating the British
Medical Association Building in the Strand. Epstein’s involvement
with this project was kept secret because of the controversy that
had surrounded his previous work. The carvings were made directly
onto the building and Epstein eventually had a shed constructed to
protect himself from the astonishment of the men on the building
site and comments from passing pedestrians. When the statues were
unveiled the subsequent outcry almost resulted in Day being cut off
the building, and Night was vandalised with liquid tar.


V is for Vorticism

Vorticism was a British art movement formed in London in 1914 by
Wyndham Lewis. It was launched in the magazine Blast, which
condemned the effeteness of British art and declared an intention
to express the dynamism of the modern world. The first issue of
Blast contained Epstein’s studies of birth. There was a
second issue of the magazine, and an exhibition of Vorticist
artists in 1915, but the movement did not survive beyond this.


W is for Wodehouse

Epstein met P.G Wodehouse in 1928, when he was sailing back to
England from New York on the Aquitania. Lord Rothermere gave a
dinner on board which both Epstein and Wodehouse attended.
Wodehouse discussed stocks and shares, and Epstein was


X is for Xenophobia

Although it was Epstein’s work that attracted so much public
notoriety, some of the attacks on him were unpleasantly personal
and focused on the fact that he was an a Jewish American immigrant.
In 1924 the public response to The Hudson Memorial included
anti-Semitic letters to the press, and in 1933 he was excluded from
Eric Underwood’s A Short History of English Sculpture because he
was an alien.


Y is for Young

Justice George M. Young and Justice Byron S. Waite presided over
a 1927 United States Customs Court hearing to determine whether
Brancusi’s sculpture The Bird was a work of art or a manufacture of
metal. If it was found to be a manufacture of metal it was liable
to be taxed at 40% of its commercial value. Epstein gave evidence
in support of Brancusi, and produced in court an Ancient Egyptian
sculpture of a hawk to demonstrate that Brancusi’s work was not
strictly modernistic but derived from ancient art. Litigation
continued for two years until the court found in favour of


Z is for Zola

In 1902, on his second day in Paris, Epstein joined the
procession to Emile Zola’s funeral at the Cimetiere Montmartre, and
witnessed the clashes between anti-Semites and the French

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