Visual Art: And What's Inside Is Pretty Good Too ; the Son of Jacob Epstein Tells Louise Jury How the Sculptor's Wife Amassed a Great Collection

By Jury, Louise | The Independent (London, England), January 23, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Visual Art: And What's Inside Is Pretty Good Too ; the Son of Jacob Epstein Tells Louise Jury How the Sculptor's Wife Amassed a Great Collection


Jury, Louise, The Independent (London, England)


It is a quirk of fate that the most significant collection of sculptures by the late Sir Jacob Epstein has spent the past quarter of a century in the Old Library of the Black Country town of Walsall.

They belonged to Epstein's second wife, Kathleen Garman, who took them as the starting point for her own larger collection of works of art, gathered with her wealthy American friend, the artist Sally Ryan.

Including works by Monet and Rembrandt as well as 43 Epsteins, it was bequeathed to Walsall in 1973 by Kathleen, later Lady Epstein, as a gesture that she hoped would, in some small way, improve the cultural life of her native county (she grew up in nearby Wednesbury); the Old Library was the only space available to house the works for many years. But next month, they will get the home they deserve. Walsall's pounds 21m New Art Gallery takes the Garman- Ryan Collection and places it at the heart of what is being billed as a world-class exhibition space.

"I think it's brilliant," says Jackie Epstein, the sculptor's son and Kathleen's stepson. He pays tribute to the drive and determination of Peter Jenkinson, the gallery's director, for fulfilling a dream to create the new centre. "He had this vision of it being part of a whole new centre. Without his consistent drive, this would never have happened."

Wandering around the collection is a curious experience for Jackie Epstein, now 65. A Modigliani painting, "Caryatid", now on the cover of the gallery catalogue, used to hang over the piano in the hall of their family home. A Cameroonian stool, supported by carved men and leopards, had been used as a fruit bowl stand.

Epstein had been desperate for his son to be an artist and demanded a drawing a week, although Jackie was far more interested in engineering and went on to become a racing driver. Yet art was inescapable.

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