Figures Who Broke the Stone Ahead of Moore

Article excerpt

Byline: By David Whetstone

They scandalised people a century ago but a new exhibition by Sir Jacob Epstein and Dora Gordine is full of thrills, as David Whetstone reports.

Challenged to name a famous sculptor, most people would once have said Henry Moore, although in the North-East Antony Gormley might now spring to mind.

In his introduction to a new exhibition, the sculptor Sir Anthony Caro ( who, incidentally, was considered alongside Gormley for the Gateshead commission which resulted in The Angel of the North ( reveals that in his student days in the 1940s Jacob Epstein and Dora Gordine were the artists they looked up to.

Moore, he adds, used to pay tribute to Epstein for leading the way "and for taking the brunt of the opposition".

Epstein and Gordine are the subjects of a stunning new exhibition at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle University.

Embracing The Exotic: Jacob Epstein & Dora Gordine was first shown at the Ben Uri Gallery, the London Jewish Museum of Art, whose curators, Sarah MacDougall and Rachel Dickson, showed me around.

This is the only showing of the work outside London. The Hatton was felt to be an appropriate venue because of its collection of African art.

Epstein and Gordine were both fascinated by the ancient civilisations of India, China and Africa and built up their own ethnographic collections. Epstein's held more than 1,000 items.

In taking their inspiration from these sources they were flying in the face of academia and the influence of Greek and Roman art. The opposition they faced was considerable. Moore told of "brickbats, insults, howls of derision".

I'd never heard of Dora Gordine. Sarah MacDougall said a lot of people hadn't these days. She died in 1991 at Dorich House, the London home she had built with her husband, an aristocrat and academic.

She was born in Latvia but was widely travelled and the exhibition catalogue refers to her "self-created exoticism". Photographs suggest a woman who revelled in an air of mystery. It was widely assumed she was Jewish.

Epstein, who was knighted in 1954 and is still a widely celebrated figure, was born in New York to Jewish immigrants from Poland and settled in Britain in 1905.

Two years later he started work on 18 giant statues to adorn the British Medical Association headquarters in The Strand, London. Because they were nude, there was a storm of protest. Other artists campaigned for them to stay and permission was granted.

But in 1935 the building was sold to the Government of Southern Rhodesia. …