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Jacob Epstein

(1880—1959) sculptor

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Sculptor. His vigorously expressionist figurative works, chiefly dedicated to themes of human struggle and aspiration, often suggest his close study of ancient and tribal art. He worked primarily in bronze, but on occasion carved directly in stone. The distortions and frank sexuality of his early monuments created controversy, but after World War II his work was much honored. He also modeled spirited bronze portrait busts, notable for their psychological intensity and fluid, impressionistic surfaces indebted to Rodin's example. His sitters included many celebrated individuals of the early- and mid-twentieth century. Born in New York, he intermittently studied drawing at the Art Students League between 1894 and 1902. In 1900 he began working in a bronze foundry while attending evening classes taught by George Gray Barnard at the league. He also worked as an illustrator before going to Paris in 1902 for further study. He returned to the United States on only two subsequent occasions. In 1905 he settled permanently in England and several years later became a British citizen. On a 1912 sojourn in Paris, he was impressed by the work of avant-garde artists he met there, including Picasso and Brancusi. On his return to Britain he helped to found the modernist London Group in 1913. After they came together in 1914, Epstein associated with the radical vorticists, among whom his supporter Ezra Pound was a leader. (Epstein was never an official member.) After World War II, when his art no longer offended public taste, he received many commissions for large-scale works, often related to architectural settings. St. Michael and the Devil (1956–58) at Coventry Cathedral numbers among the most prominent. In 1954 Epstein was knighted. He died in London. In 1940 he published an autobiography Let There Be Sculpture (revised in 1955 and retitled An Autobiography). His conversations on art were collected as The Sculptor Speaks (1931).

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