Epstein Busts Display

This exhibition is now closed

27 August 2005 - Spring 2006

Albert Einstein, whose theory of relativity celebrates its centenary this year, is included in a display of five bronze portrait busts by pioneering sculptor Jacob Epstein at the Walker Art Gallery from 27 August 2005.

Einstein posed for the bust - an outstanding example of Epstein’s celebrity portraiture - at a refugee camp in Cromer, Norfolk, in 1933 shortly after fleeing Nazi Germany.

All but one of the busts on display are from the Walker’s collections. Along with Einstein’s, they are: 'Israfel', inspired by a poem of the same name by Edgar Allen Poe; 'Sonia', a woman the artist saw in a Regent’s Park tea garden and asked to pose for him; 'Man of Aran ('Tiger’ King)', Colman King star of the classic documentary film 'Man of Aran' ; 'Deidre' , a portrait of Epstein’s cook and housekeeper (normally at the Lady Lever Art Gallery).

The display, which runs until early spring 2006, has been organised as part of the celebrations for the European Day of Jewish Culture & Heritage (4 September 2005).

Author Paul O’Keeffe will be giving a free 45-minute talk on Epstein at 2pm Sunday 4 September 2005 at the Walker.

About Jacob Epstein 

Jacob Epstein was born in New York to Orthodox Jewish Russian immigrants. After studying in Paris he settled in England in 1905, taking British citizenship in 1907. He caused outrage with his first major commission, eighteen colossal figures for the new British Medical Association building in the Strand, for his frank treatment of the nude. The notoriety gained him further commissions, including for portrait busts.

In the early 20th century Epstein was part of England’s artistic avant-garde. He was a founder of the London Group and became involved with Wydham Lewis’s futuristic Vorticists. 'The Rock Drill', 1913 (Tate Gallery), arguably his most important work, came from this period. As well as working in bronze, Epstein was a pioneer of direct carving into stone without using a working model.

Despite rejecting conventional ideas of beauty, Epstein established a reputation for his portraits of celebrities, exuberantly modelled and cast in bronze. Many beautiful women aspired to pose for him. In addition to portraits Epstein created many sculptures on religious themes throughout his career, remaining controversial to the end.

'Professor Albert Einstein', Jacob Epstein

'Professor Albert Einstein' bust

The theories of the German-born, Jewish physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955) revolutionised scientists’ understanding of the universe at the beginning of the 20th century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1921, and became a symbol of the modern scientific age.

In 1933 Einstein fled from Nazi Germany. He sat for this bust, an outstanding example of Epstein’s 'celebrity portraiture’, at a Cromer refugee camp in 1933. The sculptor later recalled the occasion: “Einstein appeared dressed very comfortably in a pullover with his wild hair floating on the wind. His glance contained a mixture of the humane, the humorous and the profound. This was a combination that delighted me. He resembled the ageing Rembrandt.”

Bronze, modelled in 1933
Purchased in 1948 (No. 387)

'Deidre', Jacob Epstein

'Deidre' bust

Deidre entered Epstein’s home as cook and housekeeper in 1939 and soon became his model. She left in about 1942, married and went to Australia. Little else is known about her. Epstein made three different portraits of Deidre.

Here, he shows just her head and the top of her shoulders. The large, heavy-lidded eyes and wide cheekbones and mouth typify his work of the 1940s.

Like the Walker Art Gallery’s bust of Albert Einstein, this portrait was purchased from the dealer Charles Jackson of Manchester in 1948, but for the collection of the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

Bronze, modelled in 1942

Purchased in 1948

Accession Numbers LL200 & LS14

'Israfel', Jacob Epstein

'Israfel' bust

The model for this bust was Sunita, whose real name was Amina Peerbhoy. It was first exhibited at London’s Leicester Galleries in 1931. Epstein wrote of it:

“Taken from an Indian model but it is purely Greek in feeling (or at any rate seems to me to be so).”

Israfel, Israfeel or Israfil was the Archangel of Music in the Koran and is the subject of a poem, 'Israfel', by Edgar Allen Poe of 1831. At the time this bust was purchased the Curator of the Walker Art Gallery was Frank Lambert, who knew the artist.

Bronze, modelled in 1930
Purchased from the artist in 1940
Accession Number WAG758

'Sonia', Jacob Epstein

'Sonia' bust

This bust was made in 1931 as a result of a commission from the Leicester Galleries in London. Cecil Phillips, who worked there, was a friend of the sitter’s family. It was said to be unique as the sculptor sold the copyright to the gallery along with the bust, although Epstein’s wife stated in a letter that there was another cast.

The sitter was Mrs Sonia Heath, originally Winifred Cicely Stratford. She was a model and did some work in films. Epstein apparently saw her in the Regent’s Park tea garden and, struck by her features, asked her to sit for him.

Bronze, modelled in 1931
Purchased in 1933
Accession Number WAG1312

'Man of Aran ('Tiger King')', Jacob Epstein

'Man of Aran ('Tiger King')' bust

This is a portrait of Colman King, known as the 'Tiger’ owing to his fighting spirit and passion for guns. He was a proud Irish fisherman, blacksmith and farmer.

King was the principal character in Robert Flaherty’s 1933 documentary film 'Man of Aran', a study of the harsh lives of the Aran islanders.

At the time the film was being made Flaherty had commissioned Epstein to sculpt his own head. He brought King to the artist’s studio to be modelled for this bust.

Bronze, modelled around 1933-4
Presented by Mr. & Mrs. S. Samuels in commemoration of the Tercentenary of the return of the Jews to Britain, 1956
Accession Number WAG898