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Details & Cataloguing

Modern & Post-War British Art

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London

Sir Jacob Epstein
1880-1959
SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL

Provenance

Acquired directly from the Artist in the 1950s by the father of the present owner

Exhibited

London, Leicester Galleries, Landscapes by Ethelbert White and New Sculpture by Jacob Epstein, February - March 1947, cat. no.40 (another cast);
London, Leicester Galleries, Fifty Years of Bronzes and Drawings by Sir Jacob Epstein, 10th June - 7th July 1960, cat. no.43 (another cast);
Edinburgh, Edinburgh Festival Society, Epstein: Memorial Exhibition, 19th August – 18th September 1961, cat. no.127 (another cast);
London, The Arts Council, Epstein Memorial Exhibition, November 1961, cat. no.53 (another cast);
Rutherford, Fairleight Dickinson University, The Works of Sir Jacob Epstein From the Collection of Mr Edward P.Schinman, 1967, un-numbered exhibition, illustrated (another cast).

Literature

Jacob Epstein, Epstein: An Autobiography, Hulton, London, 1955, illustrated p.230 (another cast);
Richard Buckle, Jacob Epstein, Sculptor, Faber and Faber, London, 1963, p.302, illustrated pls.463 and 464 (another cast);
E.P. Schinman and B.A. Schinman (eds), Jacob Epstein, A Catalogue of the Collection of Edward P. Schinman, Farleight Dickinson University Press, 1970, illustrated p.52 (another cast);
Evelyn Silber, The Sculpture of Epstein, Phaidon, Oxford, 1986, cat. no.371, illustrated p.198 (another cast).

Catalogue Note

Jacob Epstein’s sculptural oeuvre possesses a distinctly dichotomous quality, which consistently divided popular opinion all his working life. On one hand, there were his controversial carvings, often derided by the critics and the general public alike – for example the figures which adorned the façade of the British Medical Association’s building (now Zimbabwe House), the sculptor’s first public commission – which provoked considerable debate. But conversely, the sculptor’s modelled portrait busts won much praise, providing a steady source of income in contrast to his less commercial carvings, and which led to commissions for busts of many notable figures of the day, including Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, and T. S. Eliot, among others. His varying styles were however no less successful in capturing the spirit of their respective subjects, and indeed Epstein’s sculpture of Winston Churchill is no exception, capturing a superb likeness of this formidable character.

Whilst all aspects of Epstein’s work now command their deserved respect and admiration, the commissioning of this sculpture of Churchill marked an important landmark in the sculptor’s career: previously an artistic outsider, the task of creating a portrait of such an eminent international figure symbolised Epstein’s own significant reputation. The present work was commissioned by the War Artist's Advisory Committee, and executed in November 1946, shortly following Churchill’s first period in office as Prime Minister. Churchill gave Epstein six sittings for this portrait, usually dictating to secretaries whilst doing so, three of which took place whilst the two fellow artists lived opposite each other at Hyde Park Gate, London. Epstein recalled that: 

'The Ministry of Information were naturally eager for me to work from Churchill but the opportunity did not come up until after the war when he was living opposite me. He arrived at my studio complete with secretary, and a plain clothes man who planted himself at the door intending to remain on guard throughout the sitting. I offered this gentleman a chair whereupon Churchill abruptly dismissed him. Lighting his cigar, with his secretary seated behind me for dictation, we were all set for a fair start. After an hour this secretary was dismissed and a second appeared for further dictation to the accompaniment of a second cigar. After three somewhat restless sittings Churchill decided to stay at Chartwell where he gave me three further sittings.' (Jacob Epstein quoted in Epstein: Memorial Exhibition, Edinburgh Festival Society, Edinburgh, 1961, un-numbered).

Created following Churchill’s revered leadership of the country during the Second World War, the richly modelled surface sympathetically conveys both the deeply affecting personal experiences of war – suggested by the rugged physicality of the facial features – yet also the sheer resolution of this great leader in the face of adversity. Churchill’s gaze is both steadfast and discerning – his eyes fixed on a subject slightly to the right of centre, perhaps upon Epstein or his secretary, seated behind the sculptor – the slightly raised eyebrow a reminder of his intelligence and wit. Epstein’s bust of Churchill undeniably embodies the tenacious and quite unique spirit of possibly his most famous subject, creating a captivating portrait.

Modern & Post-War British Art

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London