IN 1911, EPSTEIN received a commission to carve a figure for the tomb of Oscar Wilde in Paris. This carving, aside from being his second large commission, gave him the opportunity to meet a great many of the most progressive artists of the time. One in particular was the fascinating Gaudier-Brzeska.
Gaudier called on Epstein and asked to see his Wilde carving. Gaudier was very young and very proud. When he and Epstein started to talk about sculpture, Epstein asked him if he did any carving in stone. Gaudier said, "Why, of course", and insisted that Epstein come to his studio within a few days and see some of his carvings.
As a matter of fact, Gaudier had never carved a piece of stone in his life. What he did do was to leave Epstein's, dash home, and work like mad cutting three pieces of stone, so that when Epstein came, the stones were lying carelessly about the studio for his inspection.
Later, Epstein visited Gaudier and saw him at work on the marble portrait of Ezra Pound, Gaudier's friend. Pound was very often in Gaudier's company, and in spite of being an older man, seemed to be rather overshadowed by the young sculptor's vivid personality.
Epstein recalls that at one time both Pound and Gaudier came to his studio. The three men were standing before one of Epstein's pieces, "The Rock Drill". Gaudier and Epstein were speaking of the sculptural values and problems involved in the particular figure, when Pound ventured some opinions of his own. Gaudier, irritated by his remarks, turned on him and snapped, "You know nothing of sculpture--shut up". And the famous poet meekly subsided.
After carving the Oscar Wilde tomb, Epstein faced the job of transporting it to Paris and setting it up. The monolithic carving weighed in the neighborhood of twenty tons. The handling and installation of such a piece is a work almost comparable to its carving. Thus it was that Epstein, in 1912, found himself in Paris hard at work.
Strangely enough, the monument, which had been rather calmly received by the London critics, proved to be very upsetting to many influential people in Paris. Epstein had carved the figure of a demon-angel, in full flight across the face of the world. The simplified and symbolic statue was violently objected to because it possessed genitals.