Jacob Epstein

"There is a profound and genuine reason for a sculptor's interest in African Art, for new methods and problems are presented in it different from those of European Art. African work opens up to us a world hitherto unknown, and exhibits characteristics that are far removed from our traditional European rendering of form in Greek, in Gothic or in Renaissance traditions." - Jacob Epstein, 1955.

Sir Jacob Epstein was an American born British sculptor known for inflecting his works with his passion for the sculptural work of "primitive" or ancient cultures. He produced a number of sometime controversial public commissions while remaining a leading portraitist of many prominent subjects such as Albert Einstein, Joseph Conrad, George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill. He worked in a variety of sculpture materials, casting, modeling, and carving.

Epstein initially studied at the Arts Student's League and attended evening courses with the sculptor George Grey Barnard in New York, before continuing his education in Paris at the École des Beaux-arts and the Académie Julian. He later permanently moved to England where he settled and had his first major commission in 1907. While he was attracted to modern ideas of the machine age and was associated with the Vorticists, he never officially became a member. He was dogged by controversy for his more modern experiments with form in some of his public commissions.

He is perhaps best know for the radical sculpture the Rock Drill which is part human, part robot that was originally displayed with full arms, astride a real drill, an exuberant emblem of the machine age. The look and meaning of the work evolved: the drill was discarded and the arms truncated, as his fears and ambivalence about the machine age developed in concert with the continuation of the First World War. In his later work, he concentrated on his expressionist portrait busts of eminent figures. Towards the end of his career, he pursued several monumental religious commissions. He received an honorary doctorate in 1953 and was knighted in 1954.

Photography: © 1955 Yousuf Karsh