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 Jacob (Sir) Epstein  (1880 - 1959)

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Lived/Active: New York / England/United Kingdom      Known for: modernist sculpture-monumental portrait, figure, flower painting

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Jacob Epstein
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Famous expressionist figurative sculptor Jacob Epstein was born of Russian and Polish parents in the United States on New York City's Lower East Side in 1880, but became an English citizen in 1907 after moving to London in 1905.  Epstein married Kathleen Garman in the 1920s.  He was knighted in 1954.

Epstein exhibited in the epoch-making Armory Show in 1913 in New York City. His fifteen-inch-high, smoothly-modeled bronze bust of Euphemia Lamb with sadly downcast eyenow in the collection of The Tate Gallery, London, England--was loaned to the Armory Show by the important collector John Quinn.  Epstein's piece was exhibited in Gallery A, devoted to American Sculpture and Decorative Art, with works by Andrew Dasburg, Chester Beach, Gaston Lachaise, Grace Mott Johnson, Mahonri Young and others.

Epstein sketched New York City as a teenager before studying, around 1900-1902, at the Art Students League there, at first during the day then at night, when he found employment in a foundry.  From 1902-1904, he studied in Paris, France at the Academie Julian and Ecole des Beaux-Arts with Rodin.  He became friends with artists including Modigliani, Picasso and Brancusi while working in Paris in 1911-1912. In 1913, he was a founding member of the London Group of artists.

Epstein's search for forms revelatory of life--brilliantly original, non-conforming and blatantly expressive, sometimes with obvious sexuality made his figure and portrait sculpture often controversial.  His eighteen large figures on the British Medical Association Building, 19071908, were emasculated before being removed in 1937 with the excuse that they were sexually offensive and structurally dangerous.

Responsive to the infinite variety of facial types and racial characteristics, Epstein would see interesting people on the street and ask them to pose for him.  He also sculpted portraits of a number of world figures in politics, science and the arts including Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Nehru, Joseph Conrad, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and the Duke of Marlborough.

Some one-man exhibitions include:

1913-14 Drawings and Sculpture by Jacob Epstein, Twenty-One Gallery, London
1917 The Sculpture of Jacob Epstein, Leicester Galleries, London
1920 Recent Sculpture by Jacob Epstein, Leicester Galleries, London
1927 Sculpture by Jacob Epstein, Ferargil Gallery, New York
1932 Redfern Gallery, London
1935 Leicester Galleries, London
1939 Zwemmer's, Charing Cross Road, London
1942 American-British Art Center, New York
1944 Leicester Galleries, London
1952 Epstein, Tate Gallery, London
1960 The Arts Council of Great Britain
1961 Memorial Exhibition at the Tate Gallery, London
1965 Rye Art Gallery, Jacob Epstein: Painting and Sculpture
1968 Dunkelman Gallery, Toronto, Canada
1973 Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London

Some public commissions include:

1907-08 Eighteen figures for the British Medical Association headquarters in the Strand, London (taken down)
1911 Oscar Wilde Memorial - the Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
1913-4 The Rock Drill (symbolizing, according to Epstein, "the terrible Frankenstein's monster we have made ourselves into")
1917 a marble Venus - Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut
1919 a bronze Christ - Wheathampstead, England
1924 Rima, memorial to the writer W. H. Hudson, Hyde Park, London
1928-29 Night and Day, London Underground Transport Building, St. James'
1939 an alabaster Adam - Blackpool, England
1940 Jacob and the Angel - the Tate Gallery Collection
1947 Lazarus - New College, Oxford
1952 Madonna and Child, Cavendish Square, London
1953-54 Christ in Majesty, Llandaff Cathedral, Wales
1957-58 St. Michael and Lucifer, Coventry Cathedral, England
1959 Pan - Hyde Park, London

Some, of a multitude of books written about Jacob Epstein, include:

1931 The Sculptor Speaks, Heinemann, London
1940 Jacob Epstein, Let There be Sculpture, Michael Joseph, London (revised as An Autobiography 1955)
1963 Buckle R., Jacob Epstein Sculptor, Faber & Faber, London
1987 Evelyn Silber, Jacob Epstein: Catalogue Raisonne of his Sculpture, Phaidon, Oxford
1987 Evelyn Silber, Terry Friedman, Jacob Epstein: Sculpture and Drawings, The Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, Leeds
1999 Richard Cork, Jacob Epstein, Princeton University Press, New Jersey

Despite the knighthood granted him five years before his death, Jacob Epstein remained controversial throughout his lifetime.  He died in London, England, August 19, 1959.


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Jacob Epstein is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913

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