From enfant terrible to grand old man: Jacob Epstein’s public sculpture
Dr Evelyn Silber
The American-born sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880–1959) was catapulted into the public eye with his first major commission in London. His 18 over-lifesize carved figures for Charles Holden’s British Medical Association building in 1908 aroused fierce controversy over the impropriety of such work in a public site. Subsequent commissions – the Tomb of Oscar Wilde in Paris, the W H Hudson Memorial in Hyde Park and the massive carvings of Night and Day on Holden’s 55 Broadway at St James’s Park Station aroused equally impassioned debate over their primitivism and modernity. After a 20-year drought, numerous public commissions during the 1950s brought belated acclaim and public acceptance. This talk will explore the challenges modernist work characterised by physical candour and primitivism posed to public taste in Britain.
Dr Evelyn Silber is a former Director of Leeds Museums and Galleries and of the Hunterian, University of Glasgow. The author of authoritative studies – The Sculpture of Epstein and Gaudier-Brzeska Life and Art – Evelyn co-curated the major exhibition of Epstein’s work at Leeds and the Whitechapel (1987) and more recently has researched the marketing of modernist art by the Leicester Galleries, London during the early 20th century. She is an Honorary Senior Fellow at the University of Glasgow, leads specialist tours and is currently Vice Chair of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society.