EPSTEIN by Stephen Gardiner


Artist Against the Establishment
Email this review


 Massive, admiring biography of the controversial American sculptor of, among other works, Oscar Wilde's tomb; the W.H. Hudson Memorial in London; and figures of Churchill, Nehru, H.G. Wells, et al. Gardiner (Le Corbusier, 1988--not reviewed) knew Epstein, as well as his family, and has had access to his subject's archive. Born in 1880 to Jewish immigrant parents on New York's Lower East Side, Jacob Epstein manifested unusual talent as a youth, producing precociously accomplished sketches of his neighbors while in his early teenage years. As a young man, he studied in Paris, where Modigliani, Utrillo, and Brancusi numbered among his acquaintances. Concerned that he might be corrupted by Montparnasse bohemianism, however, he crossed the Channel to London, where, contentious and abrasively self-assured, he made powerful enemies even as he attracted commissions--as well as influential patrons. Epstein married a Scotswoman of extraordinary tolerance: During their 40-year marriage, the artist fathered five children by various mistresses, and, always on the brink of a poverty created mostly by his freewheeling ways, he never hesitated to dun friends and patrons for money. During WW I, he pulled every string to avoid military service; later, as the fascists became more vocal, he was targeted for anti-Semitic remarks. Nonetheless, his reputation grew, and he was sought after for important commissions until his death in 1959. Here, Gardiner, while not overlooking Epstein's character flaws, seeks to excuse them throughout--explaining the sculptor's endemic ingratitude, for instance, by stating that Epstein ``hadn't time for conventional pleasantries.'' Overall, though, Gardiner's efforts to soften the outlines of Epstein's bristly personality are unconvincing: The sculptor comes off as a gifted but exceptionally unpleasant figure. Hagiographic but largely disappointing. (Thirty-three pages of b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-81558-6
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1993