Jacob Epstein KBE (10 November 1880 – 19 August 1959) was an
American British sculptor who helped pioneer modern
sculpture. He was born in the United States, and moved to
Europe in 1902, becoming a
British subject in 1911. He often produced
controversial works which challenged ideas on what was appropriate
subject matter for public artworks. He also made paintings and
drawings, and often exhibited his work.
1 Early life and education
2 Move to Europe
3 Personal life
4 Death and legacy
5 Selected major pieces
9 Further reading
10 External links
Early life and education
Epstein's parents were Polish Jewish refugees, living on New
York's Lower East Side. His family was middle-class, 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.
He studied art in his native New York as a teenager, sketching the
city, and joined the
Art Students League of New York
Art Students League of New York in 1900. For his
livelihood, he worked in a bronze foundry by day, studying drawing and
sculptural modelling at night. Epstein's first major commission was to
illustrate Hutchins Hapgood's 1902 book Spirit of the Ghetto. Epstein
used the money from the commission to move to Paris.
Move to Europe
Jan Smuts in Parliament Square, London
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
married Margaret Dunlop in 1906. Epstein became a British subject
on 4 January 1911. Many of Epstein's works were sculpted at his two
cottages in Loughton, Essex, where he lived first at number 49 then
50, Baldwin's Hill (there is a blue plaque on number 50). He served
briefly in the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, known as the
Jewish Legion during World War I; following a breakdown, he was
discharged in 1918 without having left England.
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.
Avant-garde in concept and style,
his works often shocked his audience. This was not only a result of
their (often explicit) sexual content, but also because they
deliberately abandoned the conventions of classical Greek sculpture
favoured by European Academic sculptors to experiment instead with the
aesthetics of art traditions as diverse as those of India, West
Africa, and the Pacific Islands. People in Liverpool, however,
nicknamed his nude male sculpture over the door of
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.
Jacob Epstein in 1934, photograph by Carl Van Vechten
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
British Medical Association on The Strand (now
Zimbabwe House) were initially considered shocking to Edwardian
sensibilities, again mainly due to the perception that they were
sexually over-explicit. In art-historical terms, however, the Strand
sculptures were controversial for quite a different reason: they
represented Epstein's first thoroughgoing attempt to break away from
traditional European iconography in favour of elements derived from an
alternative sculptural milieu – that of classical India. The female
figures in particular may be seen deliberately to incorporate the
posture and hand gestures of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu art from the
subcontinent in no uncertain terms. The current, mutilated
condition of many of the sculptures is also not entirely connected
with prudish censorship; the damage was caused in the 1930s when
possibly dangerous projecting features were hacked off after pieces
fell from one of the statues.
One of the most famous of Epstein's early commissions is Oscar Wilde's
tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, "which was condemned as
indecent and at one point was covered in tarpaulin by the French
Epstein's 1913 sculpture The Rock Drill in its original form. It is
Between 1913 and 1915, Epstein was associated with the short-lived
Vorticism movement and produced one of his best known sculptures The
In 1915, John Quinn, wealthy American collector and patron to the
modernists, bought some Epstein sculptures to add to his private
In 1916, Epstein was commissioned by Viscount Tredegar to produce a
bronze head of Newport poet W. H. Davies. The bronze, regarded by many
as the most accurate artistic impression of Davies and a copy of which
Davies owned himself, may be found at
Newport Museum and Art
In 1928, Epstein sculpted the head of the popular singer and film star
Paul Robeson. 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 some
time regarding demands to remove the offending statues 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
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, and other 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
Louis Tussaud's waxworks. The works were displayed alongside dancing
marionettes, diseased body parts and conjoined ("Siamese") twin babies
in jars. Placing Epstein within the context of freakish curiosity
perhaps added to Epstein's decision not to create further large-scale
St Michael's Victory over the Devil (1958), on the new Coventry
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 example is the bust of the Arsenal manager
Herbert Chapman that sat in the marble halls of
Highbury for many
years before being moved to the new Emirates Stadium.
During the Second World War, Epstein was asked to undertake six
commissions for the War Artists' Advisory Committee. After completing
bronze busts of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, General
Sir Alan Cunningham, and Air Marshal Sir Charles
Portal - and Ernest
Bevin, Epstein accepted a commission to create busts of John Anderson
and Winston Churchill. He completed a bust of
Winston Churchill in
Epstein's aluminium figure of Christ in Majesty (1954–55), is
suspended above the nave in Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff, on a concrete
arch designed by George Pace.
His larger sculptures were 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. He was one of 250 sculptors who exhibited in the 3rd Sculpture
International, which was organised by the Fairmount Park Association
(now the Association for Public Art) and held at the Philadelphia
Museum of Art in the summer of 1949.
Epstein would often 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. He 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.
Epstein was Jewish, and negative reviews of his work
sometimes took on an antisemitic flavour, though he did not attribute
the "average unfavorable criticism" of his work to antisemitism.
Epstein met Albert
Einstein at Roughton Heath, Norfolk, in 1933 and
had three sittings for a bust. He remembered his meeting with Einstein
as, "His glance contained a mixture of the humane, the humorous and
the profound. This was a combination which delighted me. He resembled
the ageing Rembrandt."
Kathleen, in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery
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 (1924–1954), Kathleen
(1926–2011), Esther (1929–1954) and Jackie (1934–2009).
Margaret generally tolerated these relationships – even to the
extent of bringing up his first and last children. 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 "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. Evidently, Margaret's
tolerance did not extend to Epstein's relationship with Kathleen
Garman, as in 1923 Margaret shot and wounded Kathleen in the
Margaret Epstein died in 1947, and after Epstein was appointed a
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1954 New
Year Honours, he married
Kathleen Garman in 1955.
Their eldest daughter, also named Kathleen but known as "Kitty",
Lucian Freud in 1948 and was mother of two of his
daughters, Annie and Annabel. She is the subject of the painting
Portrait of Kitty. In 1953 they divorced. She married a second time in
1955, to economist Wynne Godley. They have one daughter.
Death and legacy
Blue Plaque for
Jacob Epstein Sculptor, located at 18 Hyde Park Gate,
London SW7 5DH
Jacob Epstein's grave at Putney Vale Cemetery,
London in 2014
Epstein died in August 1959 in Kensington and is buried in
Putney Vale Cemetery. A blue plaque may be found at "Deerhurst", 50
Baldwins Hill in Loughton, which was his home from 1933 to 1950.
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 at The New Art Gallery Walsall.
His art is displayed all over the world; highly original for its time,
its influence on the younger generation of sculptors such as Henry
Moore and Barbara Hepworth was significant. According to
June Rose, in her biography, Moore was befriended by the older
sculptor during the early 1920s and visited Epstein in his studio.
Epstein, along with Moore and Hepworth, all expressed a deep
fascination with the non-western art from the British Museum.
In March 2000 the Epstein Estate appointed
Tate Images as the
Copyright Agent for all permissions clearance.
Selected major pieces
1907–08 Ages of Man – British Medical Association
London – mutilated/destroyed
1910 Rom, limestone, Portrait of Romily Epstein, Welsh National Museum
of Art, Cardiff, Wales.
1911–12 Oscar Wilde Memorial – Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
1913–14 The Rock Drill, bronze — the
(symbolising 'the terrible Frankenstein's monster we have made
1917 Venus marble – Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven,
1919 Christ Bronze – Wheathampstead, England
W. H. Hudson
W. H. Hudson Memorial, Rima — Hyde Park, London
1928–29 Night and Day Portland Stone – 55 Broadway, St. James',
1933 Head of Albert
Einstein Bronze – Honolulu Museum of Art
1939 Adam Alabaster – Blackpool, England. Now residing in Harewood
1940–41 Jacob and the Angel Alabaster – the
(originally controversially "anatomical")
1944– 45 The Archangel Lucifer - Bronze - Birmingham Museum and Art
1947–48 Lazarus Hoptonwood Stone – Now in chapel of New College,
1950 Madonna and Child Bronze – Convent of the Holy Child Jesus,
1954 Social Consciousness – Philadelphia Museum of Art,
Liverpool Resurgent –
Lewis's Building, Liverpool
1958 St Michael's Victory over the Devil Bronze – Coventry Cathedral
1959 Rush of Green – Hyde Park, London
Oscar Wilde's tomb
Oscar Wilde's tomb (1912) in Père Lachaise Cemetery
Joseph Conrad (1924) in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
The Hudson Memorial Bird Sanctuary (1924), located in Hyde Park,
Einstein (1933) in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Day and Night (1928) Portland stone, carved for the
Railway headquarters were considered too shocking when they were
The Archangel Lucifer (1944–45) in the round gallery of Birmingham
Museum & Art Gallery
Liverpool Resurgent (1956) at
Lewis's store in Liverpool
Bust of Edward Sydney Woods (1958) in Lichfield Cathedral
Pan Statue also known as
Rush of Green
Rush of Green (1961) located by Edinburgh
Gate, the south side of Hyde Park, London
The Visitation (1926), on display at the Queensland Art Gallery
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)
^ Epstein, Sir Jacob. The Houghton Mifflin Dictionary of Biography, p.
498. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003. ISBN 978-0-618-25210-7
^ "Epstein, Jacob" entry in Academic American Encyclopedia, vol. 10,
p. 223. Grolier Incorporated, 1994. ISBN 0-7172-2053-2
^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica. Sir
Jacob Epstein (British sculptor)
^ "Epstein, Jacob" entry in Futurism & Futurisms, p. 472.
Abbeville Press, 1986. ISBN 0-89659-675-3
^ Carrick Hill,
Jacob Epstein Archived 12 February 2014 at the Wayback
^ Jewish Virtual Library. Sir
Jacob Epstein (1880–1959)
^ Schreiber, Mordecai; Schiff, Alvin I.; Klenicki, Leon. The Shengold
Jewish Encyclopedia, p. 33. Schreiber Pub., 2003.
^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
^ "No. 28462". The
London Gazette. 3 February 1911. p. 874.
^ Arrowsmith, Rupert Richard. Modernism and the Museum: Asian, African
and Pacific Art and the
London Avant Garde. Oxford University Press,
Jacob Epstein – the Indian connection", The Burlington Magazine,
^ Video of a Lecture detailing Epstein's Debts to Indian Temple
London University School of Advanced Study, March 2012. For
another perception on these sculptures and on Indian influence on
Epstein, see: Gilboa, "Unto Heaven will I ascend", pp.124-5.
^ a b "Jacob Epstein". Archived from the original on 19 October
^ Stock, Noel (1970). The Life of Ezra Pound. Pantheon Books. p. 202
^ "'William Henry Davies' by Jacob Epstein, January 1917". Retrieved 9
November 2017. [permanent dead link]
^ "ART: Familiar Sensation", TIME, 25 March 1935. "The spectacle to
which he referred was an 11-ft., 7-ton statue of Christ propped
against the wall in London's swank Leicester Galleries, the latest
work of a heavyset, U.S.-born Jewish sculptor, Jacob Epstein."
^ Ezra Mendelsohn, Painting a People: Maurycy Gottlieb and Jewish Art,
University Press of New England, 2002, p. 240. "In his discussion of
the American-born Jewish sculptor Jacob Epstein, Hutchins Hapgood
^ Alyson Pendlebury, Portraying 'the Jew' in First World War Britain,
Vallentine Mitchell, 2006, p. 165. "Among the most striking of these
is an image of the Anglo-Jewish sculptor Jacob Epstein, a private in
the 38th battalion, modelling a human figure out of sand"
^ Peter Lawson, Anthony Rudolf, Anglo-Jewish Poetry from Isaac
Rosenberg to Elaine Feinstein, Vallentine Mitchell, 2006, p. 84. "with
the American-Jewish sculptor Jacob Epstein"
^ Epstein, Jacob. Let There Be Sculpture, READ Books, 2007, p. 180.
^ Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, London: Avon
Publishing, 2001, p.603 ISBN 978-0-380-01159-9
^ Three sisters with a love, and lust, for life Archived 20 October
2013 at the Wayback Machine., Camden New Journal, 9 September 2004.
Retrieved 23 August 2010
^ "No. 40053". The
London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1953.
^ a b Connolly, Cressida (19 January 2011). "Kitty Godley obituary".
The Guardian. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
Loughton Town Council: Blue Heritage Plaques at loughton-tc.gov.uk
Archived 27 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
^ "Collections Archive - The New Art Gallery Walsall".
^ Berthoud, Roger, The Life of Henry Moore, A William Abrahams Book,
E.P. Dutton, New York 1987
^ Read, Herbert, Henry Moore: A study of his life and work Frederick
A. Praeger, Publishers, New York, 1966
^ Hammacher, A.M., The Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth, Harry H. Abrams,
Inc., New York 1968
^  Archived 25 July 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Fairclough 2011, p. 126.
^  Archived 18 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
^ "The Archangel Lucifer By Jacob Epstein".
^  Archived 25 July 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
^  Archived 24 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
Liverpool News -
^  Archived 25 July 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
Fairclough, Oliver (2011). A Companion Guide to the Welsh National
Museum of Art. Cardiff: National Museum Wales Books.
Below is a brief overview of key texts relating to Epstein:
Buckle, Richard, Jacob Epstein: sculptor (London: Faber 1963)
Jacob Epstein (London:
Tate Gallery Publishing, 1999)
Cronshaw, Jonathan, Carving a Legacy: The Identity of Jacob Epstein
(PhD Thesis, University of Leeds, 2010)
Cronshaw, Jonathan, "this work was never commissioned at all": Jacob
Epstein's Madonna and Child (1950–52), Art and Christianity 66,
Friedman, Terry, 'The Hyde Park atrocity': Epstein's Rima: creation
and controversy (Leeds:
Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture,
Gardner, Stephen, Jacob Epstein: Artist Against the Establishment
(London: Joseph, 1992)
Gilboa Raquel, ...And There Was Sculpture; Epstein's Formative Years
(1880–1930) (London, 2009)
Gilboa Raquel, ...Unto heaven will I ascend; Jacob Epstein's Inspired
Years (1930–1959) (London, 2013)
Gilboa Raquel, Epstein and 'Adam' Revisited, The British Art Journal,
Winter 2004, 73–79
Gilboa Raquel, Jacob Epstein's model Meum: Unpublished drawings, The
Burlington Magazine, CXVII, 837–380
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)
Silber, Evelyn, The Sculpture of Epstein (London, 1984)
Colin Turner, A Caricature of a Sculptor.
Jacob Epstein and the
British Press: a critical analysis of old history and new evidence
(PhD Thesis, Loughborough University, 2009)
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)
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Jacob Epstein
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jacob Epstein.
Jacob Epstein An article on Jacob Epstein's work on The National
Archives website. Includes references to files held at The National
Einstein captured in bronze as he fled
Tate Gallery – Jacob Epstein
Jacob Epstein in London
Sculptor Jacob Epstein: Time for a Reappraisal?
Jacob Epstein: Sculptor in Revolt (art and architecture)
Jacob Epstein at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Jacob Epstein at Internet Archive
ISNI: 0000 0001 2121 1219
BNF: cb12064941q (data)