Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959)

Army Nurse - SOLD (1919)


Pencil drawing on paper

36.2 x 24.5 cm (14 x 9½ in)

Provenance: With Bernard Danenberg Galleries, New York, where purchased by Edward P. Schinman, and by descent.
Exhibitions: New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Exhibition of Jacob Epstein's Work from the Collection of Mr Edward P. Schinman, February - April 1967. Trenton, New Jersey State Museum, Jacob Epstein: Sculpture, watercolours & drawings from the collection of Edward P. Schinman, September - December 1968. Miami, University of Miami, Lowe Art Museum, Jacob Epstein: Sculpture, watercolours & drawings from the collection of Edward P. Schinman, October - November 1971, no. 78: this exhibition travelled to New York, Danenberg-Roman Galleries, December 1971.
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Exhibition of Jacob Epstein's Work from the Collection of Mr Edward P. Schinman, New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University, 1967, p. 28, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Exhibition of Epstein’s work from the collection of Mr. Edward P. Schiman, Trenton, New Jersey State Museum, 1969, p.28, illustrated. E.P and B. Schulman (eds.), Jacob Epstein A Catalogue of the Collection of Edward P. Schulman, New Jersey, 1970, p. 113, illustrated. Exhibition catalogue, Jacob Epstein: Sculpture, watercolours & drawings from the collection of Edward P. Schinman, Miami, University of Miami, Lowe Art Museum, 1971, p. 63, no. 78

Jacob Epstein made his name as a sculptor of monuments and portraits.  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 20th-century practice. But this tender depiction of beautiful, sad-eyed Army nurse made just as the First World War was ending, also helps to place him as one of the most talented draughtsmen of the 20th century. Unlike his later expressionistic drawings of nudes and sunflowers for which he is better known, this places him closer in style to the early portraiture of August John.

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.

In 1917, Epstein exhibited at the Leicester Galleries for the first time. The Leicester Galleries would remain Epstein's primary dealer until after his death. During this year, Epstein began modelling The Risen Christ, work on which had to be postponed as he was enlisted to the 38th Jewish Battalion. Campaigns to keep Epstein out of the Army altogether on the grounds of 'national importance' and campaigns for Epstein to be appointed as Official War Artist were both unsuccessful. The same year also saw the death of Epstein's close friend and intellectual ally Thomas Hulme, who was killed in the trenches. It was at this point that Epstein turned his back on the abstraction and radicalism of the previous years, never creating abstract work again.

During this period, Epstein had an affair with actress Meum Lindsell, who became pregnant and bore his first child, Peggy Jean, who was subsequently raised in the Epstein household, with his wife Margaret acting as the child's mother. During this year, Epstein produced his first modelled self-portrait Self-Portrait with a Storm Cap.

In 1918, Epstein was stationed in Plymouth with the Army. The night before his regiment was to be shipped off to Palestine, he went absent without leave. According to the reports, he was found wandering aimlessly around Dartmoor. Epstein was placed in a secure hospital and discharged in the July. During his time in hospital, Epstein produced a number of portraits in clay and on paper of other soldiers and nurses at the facility, this present work being an example. Upon being discharged from the Army, Epstein went back to work producing portraits of Meum Lindsell (Mask of Meum (1918) and Meum with a Fan (1918)). He also spent many hours producing portraits of Peggy Jean.

Epstein returned to public life in 1920 when he exhibited his completed The Risen Christ at the Leicester Galleries to much hostility and controversy. Epstein described the work as a complex war memorial: it stands and accuses the world for its grossness, inhumanity, cruelness and beastliness, for the First World War.