Epstein - Home The New Art Gallery Walsall

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1925 – 1930

(Click for full image) In 1925 the Epstein household at Guildford Street expanded to include three new members. Epstein had met the Kashmiri sisters Amina Peerbhoy and Miriam Patel at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley the previous year and had nicknamed them Sunita and Anita. The sisters moved in with the Epsteins, together with Sunita’s son Enver, and Sunita was Epstein’s most important model for the rest of the decade.

Sunita and Enver posed for Madonna and Child, which Epstein spent a year working on. When it was finished, in 1927, he exhibited in it New York . The exhibition was successful, although Epstein was annoyed to discover that it was only to run for two weeks, as he had spent a great deal of money shipping fifty bronzes to America . The exhibition organisers had anticipated a countrywide tour of Epstein’s work, but Epstein refused to allow this.


Epstein remained in New York for four months, returning to London in January 1928. On his return he moved both his London and Epping Forest homes. In London he moved to 18 Hyde Park Gate, Knightsbridge, and in Loughton he moved from Baldwyn’s Hill to Deerhurst.

Later the same year Epstein received another commission from Charles Holden, who had been the architect of the British Medical Association building in the Strand . This commission was for the decoration of the new London Underground Electric Railways headquarters. Five other sculptors were involved in the project; Epstein was asked to carve two groups of figures above the door, Day and Night. His involvement with the project was initially concealed, as Holden did not want to attract controversy before work had even started.


Epstein carved directly onto the building, which was being completed around him. After attracting astonished comments from the site workman and passing pedestrians he had a shed built to shield him from view. The work took six months to complete, and when it was finished critics were invited to view the work before it was unveiled. Epstein recalled in his autobiography that “They mounted the ladders on to the scaffolding, shook hands, and congratulated me on my achievements. The next day they let themselves go in the Press and left me with no delusions as to what they really thought.”


The graphic nudity of Day caused the most consternation, although this was not the only basis of criticism. The figures had the appearance of huge stone pagan idols, which provoked the Daily Express to declare that Night was a “prehistoric, blood-sodden cannibal intoning a horrid ritual over a dead victim”. The transport company convened a committee to determine the fate of the statutes, and it was only the intervention of Muirhead Bone that prevented Day from being cut from the building. The statues remained, although Night was vandalised with liquid tar in the autumn of 1929.


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