AFTER THE DEATH of Hulme, Epstein drifted away from the clique which had made up the evening meetings on Frith Street. The war had taken not only Hulme but also Gaudier, and for Epstein these two men had been the chief attractions of the group.
His work progressed steadily, but it was not until 1920 that he exhibited his next important piece. Quite aside from its importance as sculpture, it was significant in that it brought Epstein a great deal of public attention. He had worked on this figure over a three-year period and its completion was an event for him.
The original idea for the figure, which was called "Christ", started with Epstein's desire to do a study of his friend, Bernard Van Dieren. Van Dieren had a fine head, and at a time when he was quite ill, Epstein was attracted by the drawn and suffering quality of his features. He felt the sensitivity and suffering of the head and chose to interpret it in a wider sense than just as a portrait of Van Dieren.
The statue itself is a long, cadaverous figure wrapped in a linen winding sheet. The features have been refined by suffering into sharp and almost delicate forms, and the face stares out over the world with a strange bleakness. In tongueless eloquence, one finger points to the gaping wound in the flattened and spiketorn palm. The long limbs point to the ground in sternly unbroken lines, and the bared feet are set flat and immovable upon the very rock of earth. Here there is no adornment, for none is needed. Every line carries the weight of suffering, compassion, and most of all, an unshakable conviction. As one element, the forms of this figure work to affirm its fundamental dignity and strength.
Epstein has said that he would like to see the "Christ" set up as a monument hundreds of feet tall. The idea is pleasing. To think of this stern and genuinely awe-inspiring figure set up on such a grand scale brings to mind the tremendous public reaction which might result. And on the whole, it is quite possible that this reaction would be far more favorable than otherwise.
It has been repeatedly said that Epstein is a primitive and very often the "Christ" has been used as an example to bear out this assertion. This is a popular misconception. Epstein, in common with many other artists, has learned much from the primitives, principally because they produced a great many fine works of