Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959)
Watercolour and touches of gouache,
17 x 22 inches
Exhibited: Arthur Tooth and Sons, 1936
(Gallery label verso)
Provenance: Private collection, purchased by the vendor's parents from a London Gallery in the 1970s
Click on image to enlarge
"I lived and painted flowers. My rooms were piled with flowers, and this was a wonderful and colourful period"
This explosion of colour is one of the finest examples of Epstein's flower paintings from the 1930s. It is wonderfully preserved having been in the same private collection for at least the last 50 years.
Epstein was commissioned by the Dutch Old Master dealers, Ascher & Velker, to paint 20 flower studies from his studio in Epping Forest in the late 1930s. He became completely absorbed with the capturing of their essence. He recalled in his autobiography,
"'I said I would paint twenty and in the end I painted sixty. Not content with this, I went on painting, giving up sculpture for the time being, and painted three hundred more. I lived and painted flowers. My rooms were piled with flowers, and this was a wonderful
and colourful period" (Epstein, pp.165-6)
This frenzy of activity was fuelled by weekly deliveries of fresh flowers sent by the dealers from Holland. The paintings express Epstein's complete absorption with his subject; the flowers are not delicately displayed as in a Dutch 17th century still life, they explode into the picture space, blasting away any niceties of compositional device. The larger than life appearance of the flowers takes these images into the realms of abstraction; a paroxysm of colour and form.
Sir Jacob Epstein made his name as a sculptor of monuments and portraits, and as an occasional painter and illustrator. In his lifetime he championed many of the concepts central to modernist sculpture, including 'truth to material', direct carving, and inspiration from so-called primitive art, all of which became central to twentieth-century practice.
Epstein was born on 10 November 1880 in New York, of Polish-Jewish parentage. He attended art classes at the Art Students League c.1896 and then went to night school c.1899 where he began sculpting under George Grey Bernard. On the proceeds of illustrating Hutchins Hapgood's The Spirit of the Ghetto (1902) he was able to go to Paris and spent six months at the École des Beaux-Arts, and afterwards studied at the Académie Julian. Epstein settled in London in 1905 and became a British citizen in 1907. He met Picasso, Brancusi, Modigliani in Paris in 1912-13. He then returned to England and worked near Hastings from 1913 to 1916.
Epstein became a founding member of the London Group in 1913, and that same year had his first solo show at the Twenty-One Gallery, Adelphi, London. Thereafter he exhibited mainly at the Leicester Galleries. After 1916 he lived and worked in London for the rest of his life. He briefly visited New York in 1927, to attend his one-man show at the Ferragil Gallery. The Arts Council honoured him with a retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1953. He was knighted in 1954 and died in London on 19 August 1959.
Mary Horlock, June 1997, Tate Gallery website