Sir Jacob Epstein (10 November 1880 – 19 August 1959) was an American-born sculptor who worked chiefly in the UK, where he pioneered modern sculpture, often producing controversial works that challenged taboos concerning what public artworks appropriately depict. He also painted, and exhibited pictures regularly at exhibition.
Despite being married to and continuing to live with Margaret, Epstein had a number of relationships with other women that brought him his five children; Peggy Jean (born 1918), Theo (born 1924), Kathleen (Kitty, born 1926), Esther (born 1929) and Jackie (born 1934). Margaret generally tolerated these relationships -- even to the extent of bringing up his first and last children. His first wife, Margaret, "tolerated Epstein's infidelities, allowed his models and lovers to live in the family home and raised Epstein's first child, Peggy Jean, who was the daughter of Meum Lindsell, one of Epstein's previous lovers. However, Margaret's tolerance did not extend to Epstein's relationship with Kathleen Garman, and in 1923 Margaret shot and wounded Kathleen in the shoulder."
In 1921 Epstein began the longest of these relationships with Kathleen Garman, one of the Garman sisters, mother of his three middle children, which continued until his death. Margaret Epstein died in 1947 and after Epstein was knighted in 1954 he married Kathleen Garman in 1955.
Kitty married painter Lucian Freud in 1948 and is mother of two of his daughters, Annie and Annabel. In 1953 they divorced. She married a second time in 1957, to economist Wynne Godley. They have one daughter.
Although Epstein's work was highly original for its time, its influence on the younger generation of sculptors such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth may have been limited , as much of Epstein's work was not on public display and was kept in a few private collections, mainly in the United States. However according to June Rose, in her biography , Moore was befriended by the older sculptor during the early 1920s and visited Epstein in his studio. What is of interest is that Epstein, Moore and Hepworth, all expressed a deep fascination with the non-western art from the British Museum.
Epstein is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery.
London was not ready for Epstein's first major commission — 18 large nude sculptures made in 1908 for the façade of Charles Holden's building for the British Medical Association on The Strand (now Zimbabwe House) were initially considered shocking to Edwardian sensibilities. One of the most famous of Epstein's early commissions is the tomb of Oscar Wilde in Pere Lachaise cemetery, Paris, "which was condemned as indecent and at one point was covered in tarpaulin by the French police."
However, the mutilated condition of many of the sculptures has nothing to do with prudish censorship; it was caused in the 1930s when possibly dangerous projecting features were hacked-off after pieces fell from one of the statues. Between 1913 to 1915 Epstein was associated with the short-lived Vorticism movement and produced one of his best known sculptures The Rock Drill.
A commission from Holden for the new headquarters building of the London Electric Railway generated another controversy in 1929. His nude sculptures Day and Night above the entrances of 55 Broadway were again considered indecent and a debate raged for sometime regarding demands to remove the offending statutes which had been carved in-situ. Eventually a compromise was reached to modify the smaller of the two figures represented on Day. But the controversy affected his commissions for public work which dried up until World War II.
Between the late 1930s and the mid 1950s, numerous works by Epstein were exhibited in Blackpool. Adam, Consummatum Est, Jacob and the Angel and Genesis (amongst other less notable works) were initially displayed in an old drapery shop surrounded by red velvet curtains. The crowds were ushered in at the cost of a shilling by a barker on the street. After a small tour of American fun fairs, the works were returned to Blackpool and were exhibited in the anatomical curiosities section of the Louis Tussaud's waxworks. The works were displayed alongside dancing marionettes, diseased body parts and Siamese twin babies in jars. Placing Epstein within the context of freakish curiosity, especially at a time of such hostility towards the Jews, perhaps added to Epstein's decision not to create further large-scale direct carvings.
Bronze portrait sculpture formed one of Epstein's staple products, and perhaps the best known. These sculptures were often executed with roughly textured surfaces, expressively manipulating small surface planes and facial details. Some fine examples are in the National Portrait Gallery. Another famous example is the bust of legendary Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman that sat in the marble halls of Highbury for many years before being moved to the new Emirates Stadium.
His larger sculpture was his most expressive and experimental, but also his most vulnerable. His depiction of Rima, one of author W. H. Hudson's most famous characters, graces a serene enclosure in Hyde Park. Even here, a visitor became so outraged as to defile it with paint.
Enthusiastic about his work, Epstein would sculpt the images of friends, casual acquaintances, and even people dragged from the street into his studio almost at random. He worked even on his dying day.
Epstein also painted. Many of his watercolours and gouaches were of Epping Forest, where he lived (at Loughton)and sculpted. These were often exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in London. His "Monkwood Autumn" and "Pool, Epping Forest" date from 1944-45.
The character of 'Wetherill' in E.C. Bentley's detective novel 'Trent's Own Case' is a hostile depiction of Epstein.
"A wife, a lover, can perhaps never see what the artist sees. They rarely ever do. Perhaps a really mediocre artist has more chance of success." — Jacob Epstein
"The artist is the world's scapegoat." — Jacob Epstein
Buckle, Richard, Jacob Epstein : sculptor , (London: Faber 1963)
Cork, Richard, Jacob Epstein, (London: Tate Gallery Publishing, 1999)
Cronshaw, Jonathan, The Sideshow and the Problems of History: Jacob Epstein's Adam (1939). (University of Leeds, 2005)
Epstein, Jacob, The sculptor speaks : Jacob Epstein to Arnold L. Haskell, a series of conversations on art, (London : W. Heinemann, 1931.)
Epstein, Jacob, Let there be sculpture : an autobiography, (London: Michael Joseph, 1940)
Friedman, Terry, 'The Hyde Park atrocity' : Epstein's Rima : creation and controversy (Leeds: Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, 1988)
Gardner, Stephen, Jacob Epstein: Artist Against the Establishment, (London: Joseph, 1992)
Silber, Evelyn et al. Jacob Epstein : sculpture and drawings, (Leeds : Leeds City Art Galleries ; London : Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1987)
Carving mountains : modern stone sculptures in England 1907-37 : Frank Dobson, Jacob Epstein, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Eric Gill, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, John Skeaping. (Cambridge: Kettles Yard, 1998)
Sculptors resized: Peyton Skipwith welcomes an exhibition at the Ben Uri Gallery that focuses on two twentieth-century British sculptors, one very famous and one neglected, Jacob Epstein and Dora Gordine.(EXHIBITIONS)
Mar 01, 2006; Our perception of history alters as the years pass, with the result that strongly held opinions and prejudices are undermined,...
From the archives: like the work of Damien Hirst today, Jacob Epstein's Genesis was the subject of a media furore in Britain in the 1930s. Writing in March 1931, Thomas Leman Hare mounted a defence of what now appears to be a rather innocuous sculpture.
May 11, 2012; For much of its early history, this publication was essentially conservative in outlook, with a preference among editors and...
Books: Carving Scandals in a Monumental Career; Daemons and Angels - Life of Jacob Epstein. by June Rose (Constable, Pounds 20). Reviewed by John Cornall
Sep 14, 2002; Byline: John Cornall Contemporary art making waves in the popular press is something we have come to associate with New British...
'This work has never been commissioned at all': Jonathan Cronshaw looks back at Jacob Epstein's Madonna and Child.(Column)
Jun 22, 2011; Forming part of the newly rebuilt Convent of the Holy Child Jesus, Cavendish Square, London, Jacob Epstein's Madonna and Child...