National Portrait Gallery – Jacob Epstein

May 26, 2013 by

With about half an hour to spare, the exhibitions on the mezzanine floor of the National Portrait Gallery are perfect. They are popular with visitors, but there is enough space to spend time to really look closely at the exhibits and read the labels.

Self-portrait by Sir Jacob Epstein, bronze head, 1912 Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG 4126

Self-portrait by Sir Jacob Epstein, bronze head, 1912
Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG 4126

The current exhibition is by Sir Jacob Epstein and focuses on his portrait sculptures as well as showing photographs of him at work in his studio.

A controversial artist, both because of his sexually explicit sculptures and his desire to move away from classical sculpture towards a more traditional rough style, Epstein’s work is on display across the world.

Here we have, grouped together, some of the brass busts of actors, artists, writers and others who supported him when he was demonised by the press. He chose people with interesting features and certainly those with facial hair, like George Bernard Shaw and Joseph Conrad, are amongst the most remarkable. Epstein liked to try and show their character without trying to analyse their thoughts too much, focusing instead on what he could read from looking at them.

Joseph Conrad by Sir Jacob Epstein, bronze bust, 1924 Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG 4159

Joseph Conrad by Sir Jacob Epstein, bronze bust, 1924
Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG 4159

Jacob Epstein knew how he wanted his work to be presented to the public and one of my favourite busts is of Dame Sybil Thorndike as Joan of Arc which he asked to be displayed at least five feet from the floor. The statue of Christ in Majesty in Llandaff Cathedral was cast in aluminium when Epstein waived his fee so that this could be done.

If you’re near Trafalgar Square with a spare 30 minutes I would recommend a visit. This exhibition is here until 1st November 2013.

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  1. Jenny Sharman

    Jacob Epstein created the extraordinary statue ‘Madonna and Child’, which seems to float above Dean’s Mews off Cavendish Square. It caused some controversy, not least among the nuns of the Convent of the Holy Child Jesus who commissioned it.

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