jacob epstein

Sir Jacob Epstein

[ep-stahyn]

(born Nov. 10, 1880, New York, N.Y., U.S.—died Aug. 21, 1959, London, Eng.) U.S.-born British sculptor. He studied in Paris and settled in England in 1905. His 18 nude figures known as the Strand Statues (1907–08) provoked charges of indecency; his nude angel on the tomb of Oscar Wilde (1912) in Paris was also attacked. In 1913 he became affiliated with Vorticism and developed a style characterized by simple forms and calm surfaces carved from stone; his works often partly retained the shape of the original block, or sometimes they were modeled in plaster. He is best known for religious and allegorical figures carved in colossal blocks of stone and for bronze portrait busts of celebrities. Occasionally he produced monumental bronze groups, such as St. Michael and the Devil (1958) for Coventry Cathedral.

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Sir Jacob Epstein (10 November 188019 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.

Life

Epstein's parents were Polish Jewish refugees living on New York's Lower East Side. His family were middle class Orthodox Jews, and he was the third of five children. His interest in drawing came from long periods of illness; as a child he suffered from pleurisy. From a young age, Epstein rejected his family's orthodoxy and grew tired of religious ceremony. He took an interest in pantheism and anarchism, but claimed in his autobiography that his only real interest was art, and that he was never politically or religiously active as an adult. He studied art in his native New York as a teenager, sketching the city, and joined the Art Students League of New York in 1900. For his livelihood, he worked in a bronze foundry by day, studying drawing and sculptural modeling at night. Epstein's first major commission was to illustrate Hutchins Hapgood's Spirit of the Ghetto. The money from the commission was used by Epstein to move to Paris. Moving to Europe in 1902, he studied in Paris at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts. He settled in London in 1905, and after marrying Margaret Dunlop in 1907 he became a British citizen. Many of Epstein's works were sculpted at his two cottages in Loughton, Essex, where he lived first at no. 49 then 50, Baldwin's Hill (blue plaque on no. 50). He served briefly in the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers aka the Jewish Legion during World War I.

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.

The Garman Ryan Collection, including several works by Epstein, was donated to the people of Walsall, by Lady Epstein in 1973. It is on display in Walsall Art Gallery.

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.

Work

In London, Epstein involved himself with a bohemian and artistic crowd. Revolting against ornate, pretty art, he made bold, often harsh and massive forms of bronze or stone. His sculpture is distinguished by its vigorous rough-hewn realism. Brilliantly avant-garde in concept and style, his works often shocked the general public. He often used expressively distorted figures, drawing more on non-Western art than the classical ideal. People in Liverpool nicknamed his nude male sculpture over the door of Lewis's department store "Dickie Lewis". Such factors may have focused disproportionate attention on certain aspects of Epstein's long and productive career, throughout which he aroused hostility, especially challenging taboos surrounding the depiction of sexuality. Works condemned in his time as obscene and disgraceful today communicate thought and understanding.

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.

Epstein's aluminium figure of Christ in Majesty (1954-5), is suspended above the nave in Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff, on a concrete arch designed by George Pace.

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.

Epstein was one of 250 sculptors who exhibited in the 3rd Sculpture International held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the summer of 1949.

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.

Notes

Selected major pieces

Statues

Quotations

"To accuse me of making sensations is the easiest way of attacking me, and in reality leaves the question of sculpture untouched." - Jacob Epstein, An Autobiography (London, 1955), p.29

"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

Bibliography

Below is a brief overview of key texts by or relating to 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)

Hapgood, Hutchins, The spirit of the ghetto : studies of the Jewish quarter of New York; with drawings from life by Jacob Epstein, (New York ; London : Funk and Wagnalls, 1909)

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)

External links

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