Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Epstein, Sir Jacob from Philip's Encyclopedia

British sculptor, b. USA. He made his most audacious sculptural statements before 1920, starting with a series of 18 nude figures (1907-08), whose explicit representation caused a public outcry. He scandalized Paris with the angel carved for Oscar Wilde's tomb (1912). His most revolutionary sculpture was The Rock Drill (1913-14), an ape that has mutated into a robot.


Summary Article: Epstein, Jacob
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

US-born British sculptor. Initially influenced by Rodin, he turned to primitive forms after Brancusi and is chiefly known for his controversial muscular nude figures, such as Genesis (1931; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester). He was better appreciated as a portraitist; his bust of Albert Einstein (1933) demonstrating a characteristic vigorous modelling in clay. In later years he executed several monumental figures, notably the bronze St Michael and the Devil (1959; Coventry Cathedral) and Social Consciousness (1953; Fairmount Park, Philadelphia).

In 1904 he moved to England, where most of his major work was done. An early example showing the strong influence of ancient sculptural styles is the angel of the tomb of Oscar Wilde (1912; Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris), condemned as barbaric for its Assyrian idiom. His sculpture from 1912 to 1913 was harsh and mechanistic, having affinities with Vorticism and the work of such contemporary artists as Amedeo Modigliani and Constantin Brancusi. The modernist and semi-abstract Rock Drill (1913; Tate Gallery, London) originally incorporated a real drill.

Born in New York, Epstein was educated at the School of Art Students' League in New York and at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris, where he was influenced by Auguste Rodin.

After 1918 his sculpture continued to attract public abuse on the grounds of obscenity and blasphemy in works such as Genesis, but although he was still popularly associated with outrageous modernity, he was no longer in the artistic vanguard.

His autobiography Let There be Sculpture appeared in 1940. He was knighted in 1954.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles


Full text Article Epstein Jacob (1880 - 1959)
A Biographical Dictionary of Artists, Andromeda

The sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein was born in New York, the son of Russian-Polish immigrants. He studied briefly in New York at the...

Full text Article Epstein, Jacob (1880 - 1959)
The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of British Art

Epstein is a major figure in British sculpture this century, at least from a historical standpoint, for almost single-handedly...

Full text Article Epstein, Sir, Jacob (1880 - 1959)
The Bloomsbury Guide to Art

He was born of Jewish parents in New York. He developed an early interest in sketching, learned bronze casting by working in...

See more from Credo