Chief of the European Service, J.T.A.
Even the thickest skin can be pierced by ridicule despite years of tightening up. Ask Jacob Epstein, the sculptor. I can’t think of anyone in recent years who has had to “take it” to the extent this taciturn, grim-visaged artist has in recent years. What with “Genesis,” “Rema,” “Ecce Homo” and his other controversial works, he’s had to stand for a lot. But he showed last week that even his endurance has a limit.
The week began with a remark, in passing, by Sir Herbert Samuel, that it would be an act of kindness if creepers were allowed to grow over “Rema,” now standing in one of London’s parks. Epstein retorted with a comment on Sir Herbert’s mental stature and qualifications as a critic. And then, the biggest surprise of all, Epstein haled into court a news photograph agency that had distributed a picture showing a derby hat ensconced on the noble reaches of the brow of Epstein’s bronze of Shaw.
The agency made amends handsomely, promised to destroy all the prints. Epstein’s attorneys told the sympathetic court that the artist had obtained apologies from all papers publishing the photo which, they said, was “in the lowest possible taste.” Unfortunately, the agency did not defend the action. The derby hat makers were up in arms at the slurs cast upon that popular headgear and would have joined in the defense.
Mr. Epstein was subjected to another form of criticism a bit more subtle. The Government of Southern Rhodesia has acquired the British Medical Association Building in the Strand and is remodeling it into offices for its London representatives. The building, since 1908, has been decorated with eighteen seven-foot nudes by Epsteinâ€”the causes of the first “Epstein sensation.” Southern Rhodesia wants the building, but not the Epstein statuary. “It has been suggested to us,” explained High Commissioner O’Keefe, “that the Epstein statues are not quite in keeping with things as they will be. . . . And we think they are not perhaps within the austerity usually pertaining to Government buildings.”
The Government of Southern Rhodesia will entertain bids for one itemâ€”eighteen statues, seven feet high, nude, excellent condition. No reasonable offer refused.
G. B. S. AND THE ARTIST
Some more on Epstein. The most pungent criticism of all is contained in the sprightly revue, “Stop Press,” now delighting London audiences. One skit shows the Epstein studio with the artist chiseling, hammering, kicking and biting away at an amorphous mass. G. B. Shaw, the bearded vegetarian and star of the news reels, walks in and inspects a monstrosity in one corner of the studio.
“What will this be when it’s finished?” he asks Epstein.
“That,” replies the artist with a suspicious scowl, “is finished.”
In the course of the pair’s acid discussion of critics in general, Mr. Shaw (“Uncle George” of the children’s radio hour) advises Mr. Epstein that the pigeons have been the severest critics of his “Rema.”
The fuss, however, over “Ecce Homo,” the most recent Epsteinian cause of furore has more or less died down now, being confined to the Fascist papers which point to it as a Jew’s brazen insult of Christianity, and to the ranks of insignificant clerics in the provinces.
UNCLE GEORGE AND HITLER
And Mr. Shaw, who more than anything else, detests the absence of the spotlight, going to any lengths to keep it directed towards himself, has assumed the role of the only Englishman not disturbed by the warlike gestures of Nazi Germany.
The German announcement of universal conscription profoundly shocked England as it hadn’t been in a decade, to the danger of a new war hovering over the British Isles. The militarization of Germany as a threat to England’s safety, was forcefully brought home to all Englishmen by the Hitler – Goering – Goebbels pronunciamento. But not George. You can still go to the cinema and hear him in a news reel interview explain this away as just another move for the best in this best of all possible worlds.
Is it because G. B. S. and Hitler are both vegetarians?