Epstein met Eric Gill as a consequence of the British Medical Association commission. Having seen the Strand statues, Gill wrote a letter in support of Epstein proclaiming that Epstein was raising modern sculpture from the dead. A friendship developed which became close in 1910 when the two men began working together. They not only worked side by side but also formulated a plan to found a rural artists’ commune and create a temple on the Sussex Downs. This temple was to be a modern Stonehenge, inspired by Egyptian and Assyrian monuments and Hindu temple sculpture. Both made sculptures associated with the project; Gill carved Ecstasy and Epstein carved Sun God and began work on Maternity, which was abandoned unfinished in 1911.The artist’s commune was never established and the temple was never built. The cost of a house for the commune proved prohibitive, and Epstein and Gill’s relationship dissolved into acrimony in 1912-13. However, there was to be an enduring legacy from this relationship, as the collaboration with Gill influenced Epstein’s design for the tomb of Oscar Wilde.
After receiving the commission for Wilde’s tomb in 1908, Epstein began carving a large freestanding figure. At the end of 1910 he stopped working on this figure and started a new design, a “demon angel” based on the Assyrian winged bull sculptures in the British Museum. The monument was completed in 1912 and Epstein exhibited in his studio to critical acclaim. One of the visitors was Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who was to become a friend of Epstein’s.
The monument was moved to Paris and installed in Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Epstein was still at work on the tomb, finishing the carving of the head, when it was condemned as indecent and shielded from public view. This censorship provoked protest in the French press, and Epstein refused to modify his work. His visit to Paris was not altogether disastrous; he met Picasso, Modigliani and Brancusi and may have purchased his first piece of primitive sculpture.
Epstein returned to London in November 1912 and moved to Pett Level in Sussex. In 1913 he returned to Paris, but came back to London in August to begin work on Rock Drill. He also had his first one man exhibition, at the Twenty-One Gallery, and by the end of the year had formed close associations with Wyndham Lewis, T.E.Hulme and Ezra Pound.