- Epstein, Sir Jacob
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.
* * *▪ British sculptorborn Nov. 10, 1880, New York Citydied Aug. 21, 1959, Londonone of the leading portrait sculptors of the 20th century whose work, though seldom innovative, is widely heralded for its perceptive depiction of character and its modelling technique.Epstein's early ambition was to be a painter, and he spent his adolescence sketching the teeming ghetto life of New York City, showing even then the obsession with human personality that distinguishes much of his mature work. Faulty eyesight forced him to abandon painting for sculpture, and after studying two years in Paris, he set up a sculpture studio in London in 1905. He soon began to make his way as a portrait sculptor, despite the public scandals caused by the nudity of his so-called Strand Statues (1907–08; destroyed 1937) and the debauched-looking angel on his memorial (1912) for the English writer Oscar Wilde.In 1913, Epstein became a founding member of the London Group, a loose association of artists and writers promoting modern art in England. Over the next two years, he developed a mildly experimental style that yielded some of his most powerful works, characterized by their extreme simplification of forms and calm surfaces. Most of these pieces were carved from stone, but the strongest work of the period, “The Rock Drill” (1913; Tate Gallery, London), was modeled in plaster, and its robotlike form reflects his short-lived interest in sleek, abstract design.With the dissolution of the London Group in 1916, Epstein began to work in the two modes for which he is best-known. Works of the first mode, mostly religious and allegorical figures such as “Genesis” (1930) and “Ecce Homo” (1934–35), consisted of crude, brutal-looking forms carved directly into a megalith, often revealing the shape of the original block. The second mode, a multitude of bronzes cast from modeled clay, forms the bulk of his work. These brilliantly executed studies of the rich and the celebrated are characterized by subtle treatment of planes and richly agitated surfaces. At first used to accentuate the play of light on bronze, the rough surfaces were later exaggerated to such an extent that they bore little relationship to the sculptural mass and became merely decorative. Occasionally, he also made monumental bronzes, such as “St. Michael and the Devil” (1958; Coventry Cathedral, Coventry, Eng.). In his later years, Epstein became a vehement opponent of abstract sculptors. He was knighted in 1954.
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