29 NOVEMBER 1940, Page 16

Books of the Day

Great Man

Let There Be Sculpture. By Jacob Epstein. (Michael Joseph. 18s.)

EPSTEIN'S first thirty pages tell an interesting story of his East Side up-bringing (his parents were not poor, after all) and his artistic education in New York, Paris and London, and then the trouble begins.

The rest of the book is about his thirty-five years' relationship with a lot of cliquey and offensive critics and a recalcitrant public. Epstein honestly believes that he has been neglected ; that he has been driven into a position which it is necessary to explain. " It is naturally difficult," he writes, " to assess one's place in the period one lives in—perhaps impossible. It is a process similar to painting one's own portrait, or rather working on a portrait in the round, a really difficult undertaking. The artist usually dramatises himself, and that is why few self-portraits bear the imprint of truth."

But it is also difficult for anyone else to assess Epstein's place in the period because he has so over-dramatised himself. He says that this is not true—that he has never been a self-

advertiser ; that it is all the fault of the critics and all his other ill-wishers. Yet he has seldom left a criticism unanswered or neglected to embroil himself in a row, and some of the criticisms that he has ignored until now he collects together here and answers en bloc. He has gone so far with this that rather over

a hundred pages of a three hundred and thirty page book are packed with other people's comments on his sculpture. Much of it is ephemeral and never ought to have been reprinted at all, and it has been reprinted for one reason only—to make a public exhibition of the artist pricked by a thousand darts. He shows himself as the lifelong victim of journalists, of " Snobs d'Art " (as Modigliani called them), of difficult sitters and their ill- tempered wives, of anonymous letter-writers and of " that strange new phenomenon that has of late years come into being, the (failed) artist turned critic and publicist."

There are flashes of the sensitive understanding and judgement of the character of sitters that one expects from such an admirable portrait-sculptor : as in the comments on Conrad, Einstein and Shaw. There are flashes of humour in many of his insults. The people insulted would make a long list, but among them are Gaudier Brzeska (" far from innovating, Gaudier always followed. He followed quickly, overnight as it were. . . . My relations with Gaudier were very friendly "), Sir Edwin Lutyens,

Roger Fry and everything Bloomsbury, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash and most other known contemporary artists, 13. H. Lawrence (lack of virility), Orage, Peter Warlock, Frederick

Delius (" argumentative, cranky and bad-tempered "), Busoni, Eric Gill (" a scribbler . . . writing in a Catholic propaganda journal "), and the art critics of almost every paper, daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly.

Epstein is a gifted and sincere artist who (as he rightly says) has never truckled to the demands of popularity or pot-boiled.

He has been single-minded and intelligent in the pursuit of sculpture, and most of his activities during a hard-working life have been directed into two channels : the making of portraits in bronze and the making of monumental carvings. With the first he has been extremely successful—many of his bronzes are brilliant interpretative portraits and they merit, and have received,

a great deal of sincere praise. With the second he has received

tremendous publicity, but has had only limited financial and artistic success. The portraits have put him in the front rank of living artists ; the large carvings have turned him into the best-known artist alive in the country. Neither role pleases him. The first is not honourable enough, the second (naturally, as the honour is not merited) is a nuisance. The reasons for his success and his failure are that he is an acute interpreter of mood and character and that, compared with the great sculptors of the

past, in large-scale imaginative powers he is a baby. The art critic of The Times put the matter very well, greatly to Epstein's annoyance, when he said of " Consummatum Est " (1937): " It is as if one said `Bo! ' in a thunderstorm."

The book makes dull and choppy reading, but it is worth while for the account it gives of the author's sensibility and creative powers, which are so remarkable and yet have such astonishing gaps. When talking about doing sculpture (far too little of this) instead of about exhibiting he is always interesting, and there is a fine direct quality in his writing whenever jealousy and rancour are absent, as in the section on African and Polynesian carving. These are the comments of a working sculptor on something he loves and admires. Then, later on, comes a patch of fifth-rate journalism, showing that sudden emptiness and absurdity that is so shocking in some of the large-scale carvings. The chapter called " I Listen to Music " begins with a description of a per-

formance of the Mass in D. The obvious, public, boring word is applied to every section ; " the triumphant ' doria in Excelsis Deo . . .,' the throbbing passionate statement of the tenor declaims ' Et Homo Factus Est," and so on to the penultimate " dramatic agony compressed into sound that tears the very heart out of the body." Finally, " the conductor leans back holding the rail, as if to save himself from falling ; his dark eyes are sunk into his pale drawn face. We turn from the hall and pour into the humdrum streets of a London Sunday afternoon." One is reminded of Mendelssohn, as reported by Samuel Butler, sitting in the art gallery waiting to be admired admiring the lovely pictures. Epstein is severe with amateurs who express themselves idly about great sculpture. He cannot have realised how excruciating to musicians must be his divagations on the Last Quartets.

Why did Epstein stay in England, the land that has ,misunder- stood and insulted him? Really, because England needed him and he knew it. He has been an invaluable ground-clearer, now and again waking with a gigantic prod a public that knows what it likes and is always lethargic about anything to do with art. He has been one of the few people who have done a lot to effect a change ; for his biggest works have been not only symbols but irritants and stimulants. Without " Rima " and " Night and Day " where should we be? Furnishing our rooms like old- fashioned hotels and hanging a print of " The Doctor " on the wall instead of furnishing them with steel and hanging a repro- duction of Van Gogh's sunflowers. Epstein would have been at a disadvantage if he had not been a Jew and a stranger in

the land. The most vivid of the impressions of him that I keep now that I have finished the book is given by his description of a situation he enjoyed and that everyone can enjoy with him.

My stay in Blenheim Palace in 1923 was quite pleasant because of the beautiful park land, mostly wild, that surrounded the Palace. In my careless working costume so unlike the usual plus-fours, &c., of a Palace guest, I was more than once called upon by the gamekeepers to explain my presence. My assertion that I was a guest at the Palace always produced a comic forehead-salute of flunkeys and apologies.

It is a good thing that England has not always behaved towards this great man just like the flunkeys at the Palace.