THE STONE CUTTERS OF THE LAST CENTURY
By: Genevieve Astor
EPSTEIN, GILL AND GAUDIER-BREZNEK
Nothing says British art more than stone sculptures. At the beginning of the last century three very prominent sculptures emerged as the most prolific and prominent sculptures. They were Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill and Gaudier.
Each with their own interpretations and love for the stone, and each masters of their art.
In speaking with the curator of the Royal Academy of Art in London, Mr. Richard Cook, his charming stories and history of these men and their sculptures have given a perspective, humanizing not only the men, but their most unbelievable carvings.
Jacob Epstein, from New York, graced London with his wonderful carvings of stone. Known for his articulation of the human form in a rather almost original primitive form, he captures emotions and moments of time. One of his commissions, and probably his more famous works include those of the maternity series whereby he carved lovely pregnant woman, with their fully exposed breasts. The statures are calm and enlighten us all to that moment of pregnancy, when your body is filled with life and promise. As part and parcel to motherhood, he also carved the most wonderful statues of mother’s breastfeeding their infants. Beautifully capturing that moment of peace when child is nursing and mother is enjoying that particular tranquility of motherhood, knowing that she is nurturing and giving of herself, aiding her little darling with love, comfort and immunity. Additionally, as part of the commission, he carved lovely statutes for the building. Unfortunately, the prudish movement, which most unfortunately took up residence directly across the street from the building of motherhood, created such incredible grief within society, insisting that vulgarity should not be emphasized, let alone portrayed, that the statues that garnered the building were highly disfigured. The prudes won out with their propaganda, never thinking about the disservice to the art world, let alone forcing their most unnatural of motherhood attitudes upon the citizens, all the while the press and community lapping it up.
One of his works, Oscar Wilde’s monument had a most humorous story, and no one could tell it better than Mr. Cook. The story is such that Epstein was commissioned to for the monument, which of course was to be laid in France, and upon his finishing, it was decided, although not by the sculpture of course, that certain particular body parts of this most magnificent man, almost floating and flying over Wilde’s grave, well it seemed that these body parts, were, even for the French, too well-endowed! So, they were to be covered up by an metaled fig leaf! Imagine, first of all the French being so shy, and secondly covering stone with a metal! Years later, the leaf was unwittingly removed and mail back in protest! Well, apparently two elderly women were so upset that this stature’s private were so, well, out there in the open, and so large, that they took their umbrellas and began chipping away, and whacking off the genItalia, until pieces had fallen onto the ground! Well, so mortified was one of the keepers, that he kept some of the larger remnants, and not knowing what to do with the private, fallen, desecrated body parts, he kept them at his home and used them as paper weights!
Artist Epstein, then created the most unusual, most forward thinking of creations, “Rock Drill”. Upon first viewing it air-apparent that George Lucas copied the man, lock stock and barrel for his Star Wars motion pictures. Rock Drill, is just that, a man, again almost primitive in nature, standing atop a tri-podded ground-drill, and apparently still affected by his maternity sculptures, Rock Drill is with child, but more in the breastplate, rather than belly, personally, maybe signifying that from quarry comes stone, begets life’s sculptures. Rock Drill is astounding, crisp, clean, clever, motion intense, and far beyond its timeframe, as the stone sculpture incorporates a genuine drilling tool, which was unheard of at that time period. No one incorporated “real” mechanics, but Epstein did, and it is not to be missed. Truly inspiring and admirable. Remarkably though everyone hated it! It was disbelieved that he would incorporate this drill in his piece, so Epstein sold the drill! No doubt, because he’s an artist, for money! And as it was during the WW and all of the disfigured men coming home, he too disfigured his statue, re-bronzed it, and left is as a torso, only. Don’t miss viewing Rock Drill.
Also on display, is Eric Gill’s work. Truly a tortured soul, as he was later found in his garden wandering about not knowing where he was. To understand his art and his torment, one must know that he is the son of a clergyman, who also has a high appreciation for the kamasutra. The two ideologies did not make sense to him and drove him mad. His sculpture of Jesus and the sculpture of the naked woman were meant as a unit and were never to be separated, but of course, society stepped in and separated them. His point may have been that Jesus and God’s laws exist, and so does nature’s laws of the love and sensuality. He captures the lovemaking of his sister and her husband without vulgarity, yet with sincere wanting.
Again, like Epstein, Gill’s work has a primitive, Easter-Island like nature to it.
The third artist represented was Gaudier-Breznek
His work, like the others is fascinating, but as he progressed in his very, very short career, his figures became far more avant-garde and less and less primitive. Originally, as an artist, he was located in France, but as he fell in love with an older woman, he found the relationship completely unaccepted by his circle, so he left for London. Who wouldn’t! It was in London, where he thrived and was accepted and given enough money and accolades to continue to create astonishing work. His studio was below the train, and used to shake as the trains passed. When he was commission to carve a portrait, his sitter thought he would fall through the rickety chair as it too would quake as the train rumbled above. Oh, the life of an artist…
Maybe it was youth, maybe it was passion, but Gaudier signed up for the war and was killed! His comrades tell that he was a gung-ho soldier and that he would rush the front lines so courageously that he was commissioned immediately. But this enthusiasm was also his demise, for he was struck dead at the most early age of 23. What art he would have been able to create had he just not joined, or at the very least, been more reserved in his zeal.
One famous art benefactor who commissioned him for his portrait, was so distraught over Gaudier’s early death, that he wrote a book of memoirs about the artist.
England’s stance in the proud history of sculpting is a grand addition.
Now, as an aside of the curator, Mr. Cook, he owns two original Picasso’s. While at a cafe, he happened to be seated and noticed that Picasso was also there. Picasso approached him and asked to see his work, Picasso nodded in agreement and enjoyment of Mr. Cook’s work, and as Mr. Cook drew Picasso, Picasso was in turn drawing Mr. Cook!