EPSTEIN, SIR JACOB

EPSTEIN, SIR JACOB (1880–1959), English sculptor, considered one of the greatest sculptors of the 20th century, and probably the most famous Anglo-Jewish artist of his time. He was born on New York's Lower East Side into a family of Polish Jewish immigrants and studied at the Art Students League. His first assignment came from the non-Jewish writer, Hutchins Hapgood, who asked him to illustrate a book about the Jewish quarter of New York, The Spirit of the Ghetto (1902, reissued 1967). He used the fee to go to Paris, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1905 he went to London, which became his home for the rest of his life; he was naturalized in 1910. In 1907 he was commissioned to decorate the facade of the British Medical Association in the Strand. His series of 18 figures, The Birth of Energy, shocked the British public because he had refused to disguise sexual characteristics, and because one figure was of a woman in advanced pregnancy. The nationwide protest made him famous. Epstein remained the subject of heated moral and aesthetic criticism almost to the end of his career. Epstein was an admirer of the prehistoric carvers, the archaic Greek sculptors, the African, Polynesian, and pre-Columbian image-makers. In creating his works he drew on his vast knowledge of the sculpture of all places and periods, yet always retained the powerful imprint of his own style. His style passed through several successive phases. The Birth of Energy was executed in a naturalistic classical tradition. The Tomb of Oscar Wilde in Paris (1912) is in a very different style. It consists of a strange figure with a human face and swept-back wings reminiscent of the hieratic winged bulls of Assyrian sculpture. The face is surmounted by a crown decorated with representations of the Seven Deadly Sins. Epstein's only abstract sculptures were executed during the years 1913–15. Rock Drill (1913) is a sculpture romanticizing the power of the machine; Venus I and Venus II are also experiments in abstraction. In later years Epstein felt that abstract sculpture was of no value in itself, but that it had helped him to develop his sense of form.   In the monumental works executed after World War I, Epstein aroused hostile criticism by his expressionist distortion of form and by his treatment of sacred themes in a deliberately crude and primitive style. By this means he endeavored to express elemental forces. Genesis (1931) is the solid, heavy figure of a pregnant woman with a brooding head like an African mask. The dynamic, advancing figure of Adam (1939) is even more "primitive." Jacob and the Angel (1941) is more naturalistic. His sculptures on Christian themes also gave rise to controversy owing to his unorthodox treatment of traditional subjects. In his day Epstein was probably the most controversial artist in Britain, arousing fierce hostility, often laced with overt or covert antisemitism, from conservatives, but also great praise from many experts. Throughout his life Epstein cast portraits in bronze, and many critics believe that as a portraitist he was second only to Rodin. Executed in a naturalistic, renaissance style, these works aimed at expressing the personality rather than the mere physical features of the sitter. Characteristic of these bronzes is the pitting and furrowing of the surface to suggest the clay from which they were cast. Among the many eminent figures Epstein portrayed were Albert Einstein, Chaim Weizmann, and Yehudi Menuhin. He was also an excellent draftsman; his drawings included illustrations of the Old Testament, and a series inspired by Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. By the end of World War II Epstein had become acceptable to the British art establishment, and in 1954 he was knighted. Although he had no organizational links with Judaism, he always recalled with great warmth his origins in the New York ghetto, and never lost his broad Lower East Side accent. He said in his memoirs (Let there be Sculpture, 1942): "I imagine that the feeling I have for expressing a human point of view, giving human rather than abstract implications to my work, comes from these early formative years." In his late period, Epstein executed a number of religious works. These are in a sense more conservative than his earlier works and though elements of abstraction and distortion still exist they are no longer so dominant. They include Lazarus in the chapel of New College, Oxford (1947), the Madonna and Child in Cavendish Square, London (1953), the Christ in Majesty (1957) at Llandaff Cathedral, and the St. Michael and the Devil (1959) at Coventry. After his death, 105 of his clay models were donated to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, by Lady Epstein. He wrote an autobiography, Let There Be Sculpture (1940), which he published in revised form in 1955 as Epstein: An Autobiography. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Buckle, Jacob Epstein, Sculptor (1963). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: ODNB online; S. Gardiner, Epstein: Artist Against the Establishment (1992); J. Rose, Daemons and Angels: A Life of Jacob Epstein (2002). (Alfred Werner)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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  • Epstein, Sir Jacob — (10 nov. 1880, Nueva York, N.Y., EE.UU.–21 ago. 1959, Londres, Inglaterra). Escultor británico nacido en EE.UU. Estudió en París y se estableció en Inglaterra en 1905. Sus 18 figuras desnudas, conocidas como Estatuas Strand (1907–08), hicieron… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Epstein,Sir Jacob — Ep·stein (ĕpʹstīn ), Sir Jacob. 1880 1959. American born British sculptor who is noted for his busts and his massive, controversial works, such as the marble Venus (1917). * * * …   Universalium

  • Epstein, Sir Jacob — (1880–1959)    English sculptor. Jacob Epstein was one of the greatest sculptors of the twentieth century, but public recognition was slow in coming. During what he later called his ‘Thirty Years’ War with England’, some of Epstein’s work became… …   Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament

  • 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 …   Universalium

  • Sir Jacob Epstein — noun British sculptor (born in the United States) noted for busts and large controversial works (1880 1959) • Syn: ↑Epstein, ↑Jacob Epstein • Instance Hypernyms: ↑sculptor, ↑sculpturer, ↑carver, ↑statue maker …   Useful english dictionary

  • EPSTEIN (J.) — EPSTEIN sir JACOB (1880 1959) C’est peu avant 1900 que Jacob Epstein, fils d’émigrés russo polonais, décide de se consacrer à la sculpture. Il entre dans une fonderie de New York et suit, le soir, des cours de modelage. Venu à Paris en 1902, il… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Jacob — o Ya akov, en hebreo יַעֲקֹב sostenido por el talón o en árabe يعقوب Yaʿqūb, conocido despues como Israel hebreo יִשְׂרָאֵל Principe de Dios , árabe اسرائيل Isrāʾīl) es uno de los patriarcas de la Biblia. Su historia es contada en el libro de… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Jacob Epstein — noun British sculptor (born in the United States) noted for busts and large controversial works (1880 1959) • Syn: ↑Epstein, ↑Sir Jacob Epstein • Instance Hypernyms: ↑sculptor, ↑sculpturer, ↑carver, ↑statue maker * * * …   Useful english dictionary

  • Jacob — /jay keuhb/ for 1, 3; Fr. /zhann kawb / for 2, n. 1. the second son of Isaac, the twin brother of Esau, and father of the 12 patriarchs. Gen. 25:24 34. 2. François /frddahonn swann /, born 1920, French geneticist: Nobel prize for medicine 1965. 3 …   Universalium

  • Epstein — noun British sculptor (born in the United States) noted for busts and large controversial works (1880 1959) • Syn: ↑Jacob Epstein, ↑Sir Jacob Epstein • Instance Hypernyms: ↑sculptor, ↑sculpturer, ↑carver, ↑statue maker …   Useful english dictionary

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