EPSTEIN WAS BECOMING more and more fortunate in the matter of portraits. He was not only paid for many of them, but was able to do subjects in whom he had a definite interest. One of the most successful of these was his study of Joseph Conrad. For many years, Epstein had wanted to do a head of Conrad. Through the efforts of Muirhead Bone, the arrangements were made, and late in 1924, he went down to Conrad's home near Canterbury.
He found it to be a large, dreary place set in a hollow of the low English hills. There were a great many servants who scuttled about and were apparently terrified that the least mishap might upset the Master. In spite of servants and friends, Epstein had the strong impression that this was a lonely place. Conrad himself was old and ill. He had a massive, leonine head which would have delighted any sculptor, and the expression of worn suffering which he carried with a certain disdain gave him a proud, tragic air.
If Epstein had expected to find a kindly and robust old sea captain, he was certainly surprised. Conrad was correct to the point of being Victorian both in dress and manners. When speaking to anyone, Conrad would preface his words with a courtly, half bow. His clothing was impeccable, and at all hours he wore a high, starched collar that must have been agony to endure.
To Epstein, he was more than kind. He continually addressed him as cher Maitre, which, from a man so much older and such an accomplished artist in his own field, embarrassed Epstein.
Conrad professed little knowledge of the plastic arts, but was very sympathetic toward Epstein's problems. He would pose for long periods, allowing Epstein to do much more at a sitting than could usually be accomplished in a portrait. Conrad's poor health had made him irritable, and if anyone dared to interrupt during a sitting, he would fly into a terrible rage.
All in all, the portrait took twenty-one days to complete. Epstein enjoyed doing it and enjoyed even more his contact with Conrad as a person. They had time during the sittings for a number of talks, and Epstein was very much interested in Conrad's various opinions. He can remember them speaking of Melville's Moby Dick. Conrad dismissed it with, "Melville -- Melville -- he knows nothing of the sea. It's fantastic and ridiculous".