Home > Art, Sculpture & Photography, People, Things I Like... > Jacob Epstein: Portrait Sculpture @ NPG

Jacob Epstein: Portrait Sculpture @ NPG

Jacob EpsteinA couple of weekends ago we went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the recently opened exhibition of Jacob Epstein sculptures. Regular visitors to these pages will know that I’m a bit of a fan of Mr. Epstein and his amazing ability to create wondrous shapes from stone, and this small but perfectly formed display of sculptured heads does not disappoint.

It took me a while to get past the large photo of Epstein near the entrance to be honest. Depicting a man who doesn’t look like he’s enjoying the photography experience in the slightest, what caught my attention (apart from being strangely reminiscent of Picasso) was his left hand.. A huge and slightly misshapen thing, presumably the result of thousands and thousands of hours of holding chisels and stone cutting tools..

The heads here however were all made firstly by being modeled in clay and then cast in bronze. Rather than produce a faithfully realistic image, Epstein aimed to capture the psychological and physical presence of the subject, which when you see the works collected together here, is undoubtedly what he did, as despite all of the subjects being long dead, the heads seem very much alive…

R.B. Cunnighame GrahamThere are maybe 12 or 15 sculptures on show, each of a contemporary of Epstein including George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, Vaughan Williams and Epstein himself, and each is accompanied by a photo and in some cases a short story about the sitter and the sitting..

My favorite quote is actually about someone I wasn’t aware of. As Epstein wrote later in his autobiography… “Imagine Don Quixote walking about your studio and sitting for his portrait! This was R.B. Cunninghame Graham. In the head I modeled he seems to sniff the air blowing in from the Sierras, and his hair is swept by a breeze from afar”.  Look at the photo to the right and tell me you can’t see what he means….

As an aside, C-Graham was on the commissioning panel for the so called “Atrocity in Hyde Park” that was Rima, a monument to W.H. Hudson that Epstein completed in 1924 (a year after this portrait sculpture) and which C-Graham expended much energy defending against a largely hostile press, due in no small part I would like to think, to his appreciation for this portrait. And as a further aside, looking at Rima now (below) it’s difficult to see what the all fuss was about…


I’ll leave you with a selection of some of the other portrait sculptures on show.. all of them magical, and all well worth going to see…

Joseph Conrad

R. Vaughan Williams

G. Bernhard Shaw

Jacob Epstein_1

  1. April 25, 2013 at 06:37

    Epstein’s skill at modelling portraits of adults with character and children (and other small animals) with charm, probably saved his family from penury. Not all adults were pleased with the result; Mrs Bernard Shaw banished that bronze head of Bernard to an outhouse. Though it only showed what Shaw had developed into: from the “head of a young Christ” in Rodin’s portrait to the self-opinionated old crank who sat for Epstein.
    More Epstein portraits at:


  2. April 25, 2013 at 08:25

    Good morning Vexarb, good to hear from you again…
    Your arts knowledge once again proves far superior to mine.. I like the Mrs Bernard Shaw tale and will certainly follow the links to find out more.
    Thanks as always for following and taking the time to comment.

  3. August 26, 2014 at 21:14

    Hi there exceptional blog! Does running a blog like this require a large amount of work?

    I have very little expertise in programming but I was
    hoping to start my own blog in the near future. Anyhow,
    if you have any suggestions or techniques for new blog owners please share.
    I know this is off topic however I simply had to ask.

  4. Joe
    January 20, 2019 at 08:20

    in his autobiographical book Shaw mentioned Epstein’s work as a “better version of me”.

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