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Jacob Epstein Biography


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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.

Epstein's parents were Polish refugees living in New York's Lower East Side, Manhattan. He studied art there as a teenager, sketching the city, and joined the Art Students League of New York in 1900. Then he worked in a bronze foundry by day, studying drawing and sculptural modeling at night. Moving to Europe in 1902, he studied in Paris at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts, where Auguste Rodin taught him. He settled in London in 1905, and after marrying Margaret Dunlop in 1907 he became a United Kingdom 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). 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 Epstein (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. In 1921 Epstein began the longest of these relationship with Kathleen Garman http://epstein.3forming.com/Assets/Images/Gallery/itemGalleryFull/kathleen_garman_1921.jpg, mother of his three middle children, which continued until his death. Kitty married painter Lucian Freud in 1948 and is mother of two of his daughters. Margaret Epstein died in 1947 and after Epstein was Order of the British Empire in 1954 he married Kathleen Garman in 1955. The Garman Ryan Collection, including several works by Epstein, was donated to the people of Walsall, by Kathleen Garman in 1973. It is on display in Walsall Art Gallery.

In London, Epstein involved himself with a Bohemianism 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 John Lewis Partnership "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 human sexuality. Works condemned in his time as Obscenity 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 Strand, London (now Zimbabwe House) were initially considered shocking to Edwardian period sensibilities. 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 ragged 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 Night. But the controversy affected his commissions for public work which dried-up until World War II. 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, London. 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, London. 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.
Selected major pieces

  • 1907–1908 Ages of Man http://www.londonist.com/attachments/Matt/Zimbabwe%20House.jpg - British Medical Association headquarters, Strand, London, London — mutilated/destroyed
  • 1911 Oscar Wilde Memorial — the Père Lachaise, Paris
  • 1913–1914 The Rock Drill http://www.tate.org.uk/collection/T/T00/T00340_9.jpg (symbolising 'the terrible Frankenstein's monster we have made ourselves into')
  • 1917 marble Venus — Yale University Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut
  • 1919 bronze sculpture Christ — Wheathampstead, England
  • 1923 W. H. Hudson Memorial, Rima http://www.londonist.com/attachments/Matt/Rima.jpg — Hyde Park, London
  • 1928–1929 Night and Day — 55 Broadway, St. James', London
  • 1939 an enormous Adam in alabaster — Blackpool, England
  • 1940 Jacob and the Angel http://www.tate.org.uk/collection/T/T07/T07139_9.jpg — the Tate Gallery Collection (originally controversially "anatomical")
  • 1947 Lazarus — New College, Oxford
  • 1950 Madonna and Child http://www.londonist.com/attachments/Matt/Madonna.jpg — Convent of the Holy Child Jesus, London
  • 1954 Social Consciousness http://titilos.sorocabana.com/thumbnails.php?album=27 — Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
  • 1958 St Michael's Victory over the Devil — Coventry Cathedral
  • 1959 Rush of Green http://www.londonist.com/attachments/Matt/Pan%20et%20al.jpg — Hyde Park, London, London

    "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

    Courtesy of: http://www.wikipedia.org/

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