Sculptors of Today


FOR those artists who feel the urge to creative work, the position today is hazardous and beset with difficulties.

We imagine that we have at last emerged into a period of enlightenment; that no longer can a Cézanne be misunderstood and neglected, nor a Van Gogh or a Modigliani be unable to earn a living during his lifetime. This is far from true. The creative artist of today is in exactly the same position as his predecessors. He has against him a formidable array of enemy forces, who attack him directly and obliquely. To start with, those who handle his work, the dealers. They are not content to be mere dealers. They wish to be, and often are, the dictators of the artist’s production. They admonish the artist as to what the public will like or dislike, and they can also keep him in poverty, so that he is easier to control.

The commonest grouse of the dealer is that the artist is a self-willed person who does not know on which side his bread is buttered. I myself have often been asked to furnish the dealer with what he considers the most salable of all work, the small female nude, which can ornament a mantelpiece or a smokingroom table. I have never succumbed to this demand, and it has even set me against this form of sculpture. The really popular works of Maillol are those little nudes, of which I have seen a hundred copies at one time cast by a dealer in Paris, all ready for the market.

A landscape artist I know, whose spring and summer landscapes sold well, was advised by his dealers to go on doing spring and summer landscapes, and they looked with disfavor on his attempts to paint autumn and winter landscapes. Also, the subjects which the dealer finds tragic or sinister he often thinks unsuitable for the public.

The dealer demands of newcomers 33 1/3 per cent of the price of any work sold, and only artists with big reputations can reduce this to 25 per cent.

The art racket rarely is in favor of the artist. A favorite trick is to take great care that the work does not sell. This can be easily managed, as exhibitions must necessarily be in the hands of the dealers. I once tried this out on a dealer; he had a work of mine for sale sent in by the owner, who was told that there were no claimants for it. I had sent a friend who admired the work, and who was genuinely interested in it. He could not get any information as to the price by calling or writing. So far as any effort was made to connect him with the object, he was as far off at the end as at the beginning. Naturally the work fell into the dealer’s hands. It was my first carved work in marble, and he put a big price on it.

In Gauguin’s letters he complains of a celebrated dealer who handled his work while he was in the Marquesas, and who kept on writing to him that there was no demand, or even inquiry, about his paintings. Gauguin expresses a natural astonishment at this, and asks his friend to find out if his paintings are really being shown at all. That this dealer had a great quantity of Gauguin’s work later, after his death, was altogether natural and satisfactory to the dealer.

The majority of the dealers will not, of course, settle with the artists until they themselves are paid. This seems fair; but, as things are, dealers often give very long credits for works sold, to please their clients, and, while they can afford this, the artist waits and waits.

There is a peculiar attitude about the purchasing of works of art. I have heard an average collector say that he expected two years’ credit if he bought anything. This man probably never realized that he was keeping the artist waiting for two years.

There is something in the art-dealing business, an element of gambling, which can convert an ordinary business man into a potential inmate of a jail sooner than almost any other occupation. Dealers as a rule adopt toward the artist an attitude of benevolence such as the poorhouse inmate meets at the hand of the County Council visitor or Charity Organization Inspector. He is just a poor devil who would starve if not for them. Perhaps he would. To bend one’s energy to the creation of work, and to make one’s living at the same time, is beyond the power of the average artist.

The artist has not only the dealer to contend with. He has also the art critic, art patron, and art director, or keeper of galleries and art institutions of all kinds. Take the art critic first. He is often a journalist who has accidentally taken up the function of critic of exhibitions, or an unsuccessful artist, one who found he could make an easier living by writing than by painting. His pen is dipped in gall and venom. He gets back at those artists who have persevered and still keep on working. He knows how to write as if he could do the thing himself, and achieves sometimes a tremendous reputation as a ‘know-all in art,’ on just fine writing. There is now a school of such critics in all countries. In the field of Old Masters, they are the experts who command thousands of pounds a year for their services to great dealers. With modern work in their hands, their pens are also for sale to the dealers.

On one occasion when my friend Matthew Smith was holding an exhibition, I remarked on one critic’s praise, knowing that that same critic had often written disparagingly of Matthew Smith’s work. I said, ‘How strange this new view is.’ The dealer merely remarked that with regard to this critic they had ‘loaded the dice.’

In any other occupation or trade on earth this would be considered libelous or damaging. Not so with the artist. Hit him and hit him hard. If he shows the slightest sign of originality, close the doors of the academies against him. Rob him. Drive him out of his profession.

Taxation is another enemy of the artist. He is taxed on his work, which is his principal, instead of on ‘purely income.’ Sculptors work, as it were, in gold and cannot get it all repaid. The cost of producing a work of sculpture is left out of account when it comes to the price of even the smallest work. If it is in clay, there is first the clay model to be made and then cast into plaster; then the bronze casting, which is costly. In stone, there is the material to be bought, and the carving takes a long time. Yet artists are considered ‘lucky beggars.’ Perhaps they are.

The uncertainty in which artists live with regard to their incomes makes them into Micawbers, who are always expecting something to turn up. If they are accused of extravagance, this only argues the inherent hopefulness in the artist’s nature. The artist is the world’s scapegoat. He has a reputation for profligacy in living. One critic wrote that Gauguin could not possibly make fine works as he had had illegitimate children in Tahiti. Did not Stephen Crane say that, if an artist is seen just clinking a glass of beer, it is immediately called from the housetops, ‘Look at Jones, the artist. What a drunkard!'

Was not Rembrandt a terrible drunkard? Look at his portraits of himself. It is said that he has condemned himself out of his own self-portraits alone. Degas said that to make a fine work of art was similar to committing a crime — a cryptic saying from a master, a saying with wide implications. Toulouse-Lautrec is an artist with a reputation for debauchery. Yet look at his drawings and paintings, and where do you see the results of debauchery? There is nothing loose, careless, or feeble in them. The drawing is sensitive and tense; the compositions are thought out, the work of a great artist with acute observation.

Of an exhibition of portraits of my daughter Peggy-Jean, aged two to four years, a well-known writer-critic said, ‘Even the soul of a child is not safe in his hands,’ and another newspaper man professed to discover that I had done a criminal child. When I made an inquiry as to who could have written this filthy stuff, and why, I was told that it was that newspaper’s ‘crime expert.’ Dealers, critics, patrons, artists — a host of enemies waiting for the man of talent.


I have always been attracted by children as models for plastic work. I feel that the life of children has hardly been touched upon in sculpture, and this representation is avoided perhaps because of the difficulties which confront an artist who sets out to present a child. For one thing, the child cannot sit still, and to compel a child to be quiet is to destroy at once the spontaneity and charm which lie in its frank and natural expressions. Yet I have attempted time after time this most difficult subject for sculpture. In Joan Greenwood there is the precocious child with elfin smile, and in portraits of Peggy-Jean. I made many studies, Peggy-Jean ‘Laughing Studies’ and Peggy-Jean ‘Sleeping Studies.’

Lately I have indulged my fancy for this expression in sculpture by studies of colored children, and the studies of Jackie and others in bronze, and drawings, of which I have made a whole series of endless moods and variety of movement. Here again I have not restrained myself, but freely given what I have observed and felt, and I know that I have by no means exhausted the subject. The Florentines had a special love of children — from Donatello’s mad incarnations of robust vitality, to graceful Verrocchio’s, to the waywardness of a Desiderio da Settignano.

To work from a child the sculptor has to have endless patience. He must wait and observe, and observe and wait. The small forms, so seemingly simple, are in reality so subtle, and the hunting of the form is an occupation that is at once tantalizing and fascinating. At the end of an hour or two, the nerves of an artist are torn to shreds, and neurasthenia and eye strain might well result from a tooprolonged preoccupation with this form of sculptural expression.

The ‘Babe’ confronts time and his destiny with round, creased arms and hands held out before him, as if in self-protection. He boldly and trustingly looks out upon a world newly born to his vision. This is a man-child, and his sturdy frame is like that of an Egyptian king in its compact lines. Every form is full, complete, and with a sense of new, fresh power. This man-child confronts a world which we older ones know only too well, and our gray, haggard glance must light up at this fresh revelation — an undying flame of life embodied again.

To have a child to work from was delightful. Little Peggy-Jean was a real source of inspiration. I never tired of watching her, and to watch her was for me to work from her — to make studies in clay of all her moods; and when she tired and fell asleep, there was something new to do, charming and complete. To work from a child seemed to me the only work worth doing, and I was prepared to go on for the rest of my life looking at Peggy-Jean, and making new studies of her. I exhibited these later in one of my exhibitions, and the reactions of some persons were far from amusing. Of the ‘ Peggy-Jean Asleep,’one kind soul said, ‘How cruel of Mr. Epstein to compel a child to pose like that.’ Others said, ‘She is not at all a pretty child,’ as if it were the sole business of the artist to find a ‘pretty’ child to work from.

I regret that I have not done more children, and I plan some day to do only children. I think I should be quite content with that, and not bother about the grownups at all. I should love to fill my studio with studies of children. Children just born. Children growing up. Children nude. Children in fantastic costumes en prince, with pets of all kinds, and toys. Dark children, pickaninnies, Chinese, Mongolian-eyed children.

This is a fancy, a dream of mine; but naturally I must sometimes turn to and earn a living like other persons, and not indulge too much in strange and unrealizable longings and desires.

I begin the drawings of Jackie, and at first my drawings are somewhat sketchy, loose; although from the beginning I know what I want to render. It is the life, free, careless and apprehensive at the same time, of the little boy with his lively intelligence and quick ways, especially his eyes, and also his expressive hands in their infinite and unconscious gestures, that I wish to capture. I find that I must have great patience, as there is no such thing as posing; I have to watch for the return of a gesture and the movement of the head. The same movement of the arms or hands never seems to recur, and I often rise after an hour or two, enervated and discouraged, with nothing to show but an abandoned beginning. Gradually I seem to gain in swiftness and assurance, and the drawings become more satisfactory. I reject a dozen drawings, and one seems to me to have got something of the little fellow’s peculiarity. I have him read to, and that fixes his attention. The stories with pictures hold him, especially drawings of animals — Rabier’s graphic accounts above all. At the adventures of the monkey, the rabbit, the hedgehog, and the ducks, he roars with delight, and I then work with devoted fury.

In time I see hundreds of things to do, all different. The drawings are like preludes and fugues, or, to put it better, variations on a theme — the theme of young child life. An endless series of variations. I can see no monotony in my studies of this boy, although that is the easiest and readiest criticism. Today, variety means something different, from what it once did. To me the changes of expression in a child’s head, the change of the direction of the pupil of the eye, the contraction and expansion of the eye, the change in nostrils and cheeks, give great variety, such variety as it would take a highly sensitive and skillful observer to record. A technique must be at one’s command, transcending mere stylism. The aim must be achieved, whatever the means.

As I say, I work with fury and appetite, and before the miracle of the child’s moods I am almost nonplused; but a partial achievement spurs me on, and with the multiplicity of drawings I feel the abundant harvest has made my efforts well worth while. I look upon this body of drawings of a child as a legacy well worth achieving. In reviewing them now, I see a development in technique and a final mastery, also great, variety of line and rendering of form, through light and shade. I compare these drawings with any others I have made, and am pleased at their lightness and solidity. I feel really sorry that I have sold a number, as I should like to have kept them intact as a collection. My drawings of Jackie present a period of my life, and mark out a plastic expression I am proud of. To capture the fugitive and endless expressions and changes of movement of a child has been a rare experience.


With Rodin a new era in sculpture began; and, though every schoolboy now seems able to pick holes in him, he was a revivifying force that compelled sculpture into paths which it is still following. Before Rodin —with Houdon, Rude, Carpeaux — the form, solely realistic and decorative, remained in itself uninteresting. With Rodin, modeling became interesting and individual for its own sake; an element of imagination entered sculpture which included the grotesque. Rodin was a sculptor who, in his search for expression, was not afraid to be grotesque and, in one or two instances, even ridiculous, which of course no living sculptor could ever afford to be. I find Rodin now much underrated, and the wiseacres of today will only admit that his drawings have the stuff of immortality in them. This is an absurd judgment, and we need only wait a few years for the pendulum to swing the other way. For one thing, the vast output of Rodin makes his lifework difficult to sum up. Where a sculptor of today makes one work, Rodin made a hundred, and his own fecundity tires and bewilders us all in such a collection of his works as the Hôtel Biron possesses.

I find that a sculptor who is much lauded today, Despiau, really has his foundation in Rodin. Actually Despiau worked for Rodin, carving marble for him. I could point to a head in the Rodin Musée which contains the whole of Despiau, and to me Despiau’s work is monotonous and often insensitive. He is very popular, more especially in America, where works of an æsthetic, or washed-out, character have a great vogue — for example, Whistler, Marie Laurencin, ‘abstract art,’ Brancusi. His nudes amount to school works which any clever student can produce. To compare this quite talented but limited sculptor with Rodin is nonsense.

Rodin did not possess a sense of the architectural, and that is why his ‘Porte d’Enfer’ is such a failure architecturally. From even a little distance it has all the appearance of an anthill in commotion. Rodin concentrated on the individual groups and figures, and the ‘Porte d’Enfer,’ to be appreciated, must be studied close to, when the tragic and splendid qualities of the groups reveal themselves.

When I was a student in Paris, I was taken to Rodin’s studio by a fellow student, an Englishman. One afternoon we went together to the Rue de l’Université, where Rodin had several studios adjoining one another, given him by the State. I saw there the large Victor Hugo in marble, still unfinished, and many smaller works in marble and bronze. One large low table was laden with hundreds of small studies and sketches brought, I should say, by aspiring sculptors and ‘mothers of genius’ for Rodin’s inspection. How anyone had the impudence to impose on him in this fashion is incomprehensible to me. Rodin himself, short, bearded, with a sort of round flat cap on his head, looked calm and watchful at the same time. His neck was of enormous thickness and gave his head a tapering shape upwards. He went about among his guests, and he would roll tissue paper around a small bronze head and show it in that way. I did not speak to him, as I had only just arrived in Paris and knew no French. I was quite content to look at things, and watch Rodin himself.

A sculptor totally unknown in England, and to the rest of Europe, is the American, George Grey Barnard. I knew his work in America and thought his first large work, ‘The Two Natures,’ now in the Metropolitan, a very great work in sculpture. It is one of the finest conceptions of our day. He spent a long life devoted to sculpture and was ‘ a law unto himself,’ going his own way. His statue of Lincoln, which was offered to London in 1917, was most unfairly and bitterly assailed by a stupid art critic, Sir Claude Phillips. I answered this on October 6, 1917, defending Barnard’s ‘Lincoln’ as a great work, in the Daily Telegraph. My letter I give here.

I read with astonishment the pontifical judgments of your art critic, Sir Claude Phillips, upon the statue of Abraham Lincoln by George Grey Barnard, the American sculptor, based solely upon what he admitted was a very blurred photograph; and he is equally astonishing to me when he is full of respect and solemnity towards his own suggestions of what a monument to Lincoln should be. These two attitudes are by no means uncommon to critics. George Grey Barnard is a very great sculptor, an artist whose achievement is so superb that his statue of Lincoln should be awaited with the eager expectancy due to a new unknown work by a great master. What there may be behind this by no means accidental attack and Press campaign against the Lincoln statue I do not know, but undoubtedly Barnard, like all men of genius, and of independent mind, would have ready waiting for him the usual pack, who at the first opportunity would fasten upon him. I raise the only protest I know of against this chorus of calumny, because Barnard has given the world works for which we will always be grateful, anti the attack on his statue of Lincoln in England is manifestly unfair and one-sided.

In sculpture, although I had my first lessons from Barnard, we were poles apart in conception and execution. Barnard had a passion for the heroic, derived from an intensive study of Michelangelo, and I believe in all his thoughts and actions he had Michelangelo somewhere in the background, He even boasted of having made more figures and groups of heroic size than the great Florentine himself. To my mind he never achieved the intimate and personal which so appeals to me. On my return to America I was surprised to find that Barnard’s reputation had sunk very low, and mere tyros thought him academic and spoke scornfully of him.

Brancusi is perhaps, of all modern sculptors, the man who brought the greatest individual touch into sculpture; and he now has his imitators and followers by the hundreds. Indeed, his formula — for a formula it became — is used for window decorating, mannequins, and posters. His work was strongly influenced by Negro art, and also by Cycladic sculpture; but in our own period of tortured and realistic work his highly sophisticated art seems fresh and strange — a paradox. Brancusi himself, when I first met him, I found charming and simple in manner, and in appearance like a sailor or a farmer. He was deeply serious but with plenty of humor. We sat on a log, the only seat in his studio in Montparnasse, and he offered his guests sweets out of a paper bag. He was fond of telling funny stories about his sculpture. He had carved a bird and someone asked him why he had not done the feet of the bird. His answer was that ‘the bird’s feet were in water and could not be seen.’

Ortiz de Zarate said humorously that whenever Easter came round he was reminded of Brancusi by the eggs. This referred to the fact that a good deal of Brancusi’s work took naturally an egg shape.

Twenty years later I again visited Brancusi. Looking about me, I could imagine it to be the first visit: the work was the same, Brancusi was the same, somewhat grayer and thinner. Instead of drinking sour milk he now drank hot water: he said that hot water cured one of all ills, even of love. As I was saying good-bye to him in the courtyard, a French artist passed with the inevitable girl, going into their studio. We exchanged glances, and Brancusi turned to his studio with its abstract and arid shapes.


In my portraits it is assumed that I start out with a definite conception of my sitter’s character. On the contrary, I have no such conception whatever in the beginning. The sitter arrives in the studio, mounts the stand, and I begin my study. My aim, to start with, is entirely constructive. With scientific precision I make a quite coldly thought-out construction of the form, giving the bony formations around the eyes, the ridge of the nose, mouth, and cheekbones, and defining the relation of the different parts of the skull to each other. As the work proceeds I note the expression and the changes of expression, and the character of the model begins to impress itself on me. In the end, by a natural process of observation, the mental and physiological characteristics of the sitter impose themselves upon the clay. This process is natural and not preconceived. With close and intensive study come subtleties and fine shades. From turning the work round so as to catch every light comes that solidity that makes the work lightproof, as it were. For in a work of sculpture the forms actually alter with the change of light, not as in a painting or drawing, where the forms only become more or less visible.

It is said that the sculptor as an artist always depicts himself in his work, even in his portraits. In only one sense is this true — that is, in the sense in which the artist’s own nature colors his outlook. To illustrate what I say, take a portrait by Frans Hals. We observe that, his outlook on humanity is cold and detached; he observes his models without any emotions and never warms to them. He seemed unfortunate in his sitters; as human beings they evidently aroused in him no feeling of sympathy, and he turned to their clothes with greater pleasure than he got from their faces. He obviously enjoyed his own technique and reveled in his marvelous skill.

With Rembrandt the opposite seems the case. His great heart seemed to warm toward the men and women who sat for him, and he seemed to penetrate into their inner selves and reveal their very souls — in children their lively joy, and in grownups the burden of living, their sorrow and disappointments. There is a great wisdom in him, and his people look out of his canvases, human beings whose trades and business you cannot tell, but they have deep human thoughts; they are not just tradesmen and shrews, as in Hals. A beggar in the hands of Rembrandt is some ancient philosopher, a Diogenes content in his tub; a manservant in a borrowed cloak becomes a king of the East with splendor wreathing him round. So with the portraits of Goya. His men are witty, cynical, brutal, and his women lovely, gallant, and lecherous.

Rarely have I found sitters altogether pleased with their portraits. Understanding is rare, and the sitter usually wants to be flattered. How Goya ever got away with his superb portraits of the Spanish Royal Family is still an inexplicable mystery.

I recall the naïve expression of one of my sitters who asked me if his nose was as I depicted it, and, when I assured him that it was so, cajolingly exclaimed, ‘Can’t you cheat nature a little?’

Another will feel the bump at the back of his neck and look ruefully at my bust. On the whole, men sitters are more vain than women sitters. Shaw was terribly nervous about his bust; so was Priestley; and I have found that rarely does a wife see eye to eye with the artist. Always the artist ‘has just missed something that she wants in or has put in something that she has never observed.’

My best portraits, of course, have been those of friends and people I have asked to sit for me. The model who just sits and leaves the artist to his own thoughts is the most helpful one — not the model who imagines she is inspiring the artist. It seems to me that Mona Lisa said nothing; that ‘enigmatic’ smile was quite enough for Leonardo to bother about.

Sometimes the sitter impresses his owm conception of himself upon the artist. This can never result in a successful work — one that renders the character of the model. Sir Hugh Walpole was one of these sitters. He insisted on sitting to me like a Pharaoh, with head held high and chin stuck out. In reality Sir Hugh is the most genial of men, with sparkling, twinkling humor in his eye, and his mouth wreathed in a kindly, genial smile. But with the rigidity of Sir Hugh’s pose I could do nothing. I knew that the head was well modeled, but as for a portrait of my model’s real self, I never thought it was that for a moment. It was Sir Hugh Walpole in the rôle of Benito Mussolini.

Muirhead Bone had arranged that I should do a bust of Conrad for him. I had desired ten years before to work from him, and had spoken to Richard Curle about it. I had been informed by him that Conrad could not sit for me, owing to the intervention of a painter ‘ friend.’ At the time I was deeply disappointed and dropped the idea. But in 1924 the commission was finally arranged. My admiration for Conrad was immense, and he had a head that appealed to a sculptor, massive and fine at the same time, so I jumped at the idea of working from him at last. After a meeting in London it was arranged with him that I should go down to his place at St. Oswalds, near Canterbury, and at my suggestion I should live in an inn in a near-by village while working on the bust. This arrangement always suits me best, as I prefer to be free outside my working hours.

I set out from London on a cold March morning, feeling somewhat ill and downhearted. I hated working away from my studio, amidst uncertain and perhaps disagreeable conditions. Before beginning a work I am timid and apprehensive. What will the lighting be? A good start is everything; and with a subject like Conrad I wanted to do justice to myself. My taxi contained my working materials, stands, clay, and working tools. It seemed a long journey to Kent. I arrived toward dark with snow falling. Conrad met me, and we arranged the room in which I should work, where I unpacked my baggage. I was then conducted across a park to the village of Bridge and the inn where I was to stay This inn seemed to be of the gloomiest and coldest type. The whole mood of the place, with the sodden countryside, promised a cheerless beginning.

Conrad was an absorbing study. He took posing seriously and gave me good long sittings until one o’clock, when we lunched and talked. From the beginning he called me ‘Cher Maître,’ embarrassing me by this mode of address from a much older man who was a great master of his own craft. His manners were courtly and direct, but his neurasthenia forced him at times to outbursts of rage and irritability with his household, which quickly subsided. I already had a fairly clear notion as to how I should treat the bust. A sculptor had previously made a bust of him which represented him as an open-necked, romantic, outof-door type of person. In appearance he was the very opposite. His clothes were immaculately conventional, and his collar enclosed his neck like an Iron Maiden’s vise or a garroter’s grip. He was worried if his hair and beard were not trim and neat as became a sea captain. There was nothing shaggy or bohemian about him. His glance was keen despite the drooping of one eyelid. He was the sea captain, the officer, and in our talks he emphasized the word ‘responsibility.’ Responsibility weighed on him, weighed him down. He used the word again and again, and one immediately thought of Lord Jim — the conscience suffering at the evasion of duty. It may have been because I met him late in life that Conrad gave me a feeling of defeat — but defeat met with courage.

He was crippled with rheumatism, crotchety, nervous, and ill. He said to me, ‘I am finished.’ There was pathos in his pulling out of a drawer his last manuscript to show me that he was still at work. There was no triumph in his manner, however; and he said that he did not know whether he would ever finish it. ‘I am played out,’ he said; ‘played out.’

We talked after the sittings, mostly in the afternoons when we had tea together, and Conrad was full of reminiscences about himself. We were generally alone together. There in his country house he seemed to live alone, although the house was filled with servants. A few visitors came at the week-ends, but he seemed a lonely, brooding man, with none too pleasant thoughts.

He was a good sitter, always strictly punctual, and he stuck to the stand, giving me plenty of opportunity for work and study. I was with him for twenty-one days. Once, while posing, he had a heart attack, and he felt faint. His manservant brought him a stiff whiskey, and he insisted on renewing the sitting. I had no hesitations while at work, owing to his very sympathetic attitude. A doubtful or critical attitude of the sitter will sometimes hang like a dark cloud over the work and retard it. Conrad’s sympathy and good will were manifest. He would beam at me with a pleased expression and forget his rheumatism and the tree outside the window at which he railed. The tree was large and beautiful, but to Conrad it was a source of misery.

The house was roomy, and set among low hills. To Conrad it was a prison set in a swamp. He must move. He must find another house. He would set out in his car, one step from the door to the sealed vehicle, to search for the new house. No outdoors for him. The sea captain hated out-of-doors, and never put his nose into it.

To return to the bust; Conrad had a demon expression in the left eye, while his right eye was smothered by a drooping lid, but the eyes glowed with a great intensity of feeling. The drooping, weary lids intensified the impression of brooding thought. The whole head revealed the man who had suffered much — a head set on shoulders hunched about his ears. When he was seated, the shoulders gave the impression of a pedestal for the head. His gnarled hands were covered with woolen mittens, and his habit of tugging at his beard when in conversation or in thought gave me the idea of including the hands in the bust; but he recoiled from so human a document.

On anything connected with the plastic arts, Conrad frankly confessed ignorance, although perhaps to flatter me he attempted to draw a parallel between the process of building up a work of sculpture and that of writing a novel. Of music he said he knew nothing, nor did it interest him; but he admitted being impressed by the sound of drums coming across the waters in Africa at night.

The walls of his house carried a few indifferent family portraits in oil. He turned over lovingly the family portrait album of his ancestors: his father, a distinguished Polish nobleman named Korzeniowski, who had suffered under the Czar; photographs of himself very young, which showed him as being extremely handsome.

I looked at Conrad’s bookshelf. He had not many books, in no sense a library; but he had a complete edition of Turgenev in English. We talked of books, and I mentioned Melville’s Moby Dick, expecting him to be interested. Conrad burst into a furious denunciation of it. ‘He knows nothing of the sea. It’s fantastic, ridiculous,’ he said. When I mentioned that the work was symbolical and mystical: ‘Mystical, my eye. My old boots are mystical.’ Meredith? His characters are ten feet high. D. H. Lawrence had started well, but had gone wrong. ‘Filth. Nothing but obscenities.’ For Henry James he had unqualified admiration. Of his own novels he said it was a tossup at one time as to whether he would write in English or in French. He emphasized the amount of labor he gave to a novel to get it to satisfy himself.

At a few of the sittings Conrad dictated letters to the secretary. His English was strongly foreign, with a very guttural accent, so that his secretary frequently failed to get the right word, which made Conrad growl. I would try to detach myself from the work to listen. His composition was beautiful. Sentence followed sentence in classic ‘Conrad,’ totally unlike his conversational manner, which was free, easy, and colloquial.

The work on the bust was nearing completion. One day, at the end of the sittings, Mrs. Conrad appeared at the door to see it. She gave one glance and fled. Perhaps a wife, a lover, can never see what the artist sees. At any rate, the fact is that they rarely ever do. Perhaps a really mediocre artist has more chance of success in this respect. When George Bernard Shaw was sitting to me I asked him why he had given sittings to a very incompetent artist. Shaw exclaimed: ‘Why, he is a fine portrait painter — my wife, on entering the room where the portrait was, actually mistook it for myself.’

Conrad’s own opinion about my portrait of himself was conveyed in a letter he wrote to Richard Curie, his biographer and literary executor. ‘The bust of Ep has grown truly monumental. It is a marvelously effective piece of sculpture, with even something more than a masterly interpretation in it. It is wonderful to go down to posterity like that.’ Later Sir Muirhead Bone offered the bust to the National Portrait Gallery. It was refused.

At last the work was completed. I wired my moulder to come and carry it away to London to be cast. I said goodbye to the old Master and traveled with the bust. Five months later I opened a newspaper and read that Joseph Conrad was dead.


In 1933 rumors of the intended assassination of Einstein caused his flight to England. He left Belgium and was a refugee under Commander LockerLampson ‘s care at a camp near Cromer. I had some correspondence with Commander Locker-Lampson about my working from Einstein, and we arranged for a week of sittings. I traveled to Cromer, and the following morning was driven out to the camp, situated in a secluded wild spot very near the sea.

Einstein appeared, dressed very comfortably in a pullover with his wild hair floating in the wind. His glance contained a mixture of the humane, the humorous, and the profound. This was a combination which delighted me. He resembled the aging Rembrandt.

The sittings took place in a small hut, which was filled with a piano so that I could hardly turn round. I asked the girl attendants, of whom there were several, secretaries of Commander LockerLampson, to remove the door, which they did; but they facetiously asked whether I would like the roof off next. I thought I should have liked that too, but I did not demand it, as the attendant ‘angels’ seemed to resent a little my intrusion into the retreat of their Professor. After the third day they thawed, and I was offered beer at the end of the sitting.

I worked for two hours every morning, and at the first sitting the Professor was so surrounded with tobacco smoke from his pipe that I saw nothing. At the second sitting I asked him to smoke in the interval. Einstein’s manner was full of charm and bonhomie. He enjoyed a joke and had many a jibe at the Nazi professors, one hundred of whom in a book had condemned his theory. ‘Were I wrong,’ he said, ‘one professor would have been quite enough.’ Also, in speaking of Nazis, he once said, ‘I thought I was a physicist; I did not bother about being non-Aryan until Hitler made me conscious of it.’

At the end of the sittings he would sit down at the piano and play, and once he took a violin and went outside and scraped away. He looked altogether like a wandering gypsy, but the sea air was damp, the violin execrable, and he gave it up. The Nazis had taken his own good violin when they confiscated his property in Germany.

Einstein watched my work with a kind of naïve wonder and seemed to sense that I was doing something good of him.

The sittings unfortunately had to come to a close, as Einstein was to go up to London to make a speech at the Albert Hall and then leave for America. I could have gone on with the work. It seemed to me a good start, but, as so often happens, the work had to be stopped before I had carried it to completion.

Later I exhibited the head in London in December 1933. During the exhibition, while the gallery was without attendants for a short time, it was discovered on the floor, fortunately only bent on to its stone pedestal, which could easily be remedied. Who had overthrown it? This version was bought by the Chantry bequest, and is at present in the Tate Gallery.

I met Lord Rothermere on the Aquitania on my return from New York in January 1928. He asked me if I would do his bust in London. Of this meeting with Rothermere on the Aquitania I recall a dinner which he gave on board, at which the great steel magnate, Charles Schwab, and P. G. Wodehouse, the English humorist, were present. Lord Rothermere asked Schwab how much he thought his fortune amounted to, and Schwab answered very impressively that he ‘really couldn’t compute it.’ I was, of course, referred to as the ‘greatest’ sculptor in the world, and in the eyes of these moneyed men that meant the sculptor who made the most money. Wodehouse discussed stocks and shares, and altogether I got a strange impression of the values that rich and successful men place on things, and of how they are interested in wealth, which to an artist is only a means to finer ends. Lord Rothermere, although he prided himself upon owning a fine collection of Old Masters, answered when I asked him what Rembrandts he possessed, ‘But Rembrandt isn’t any good, is he?’

The sittings in London for the bust characteristically began with a film company’s making a film of myself and the sitter at work. Altogether the proceedings went on, as it were, in public, as Rothermere liked company and conducted his various businesses in my studio. I did not mind this, as it showed the sitter animated by subjects that really interested him. I have long ago been forced into the habit of ignoring those around me when at work and thinking only of the work in hand. Financiers and millions of pounds were discussed. Rothermere was monumental and offered strange psychological problems to the artist. Also, he possessed a natural sense of humor and did not expect me to flatter him. He jocularly remarked that I was not making an Ivor Novello of him. The work progressed, but my model had a disconcerting habit of leaving for foreign parts suddenly and sending me a wire that he would turn up in about a week or fortnight and ‘join me in the clay bin,’ as he put it.

This habit of the wire finally decided me to call it a day, and the bust was declared finished.

Rothermere pretended to no knowledge of modern art, but collected Old Masters. I will say that when he showed me these I was not very much impressed. A critic had collected them for him. This critic let me see that he was eager that I should not show him up too much to Lord Rothermere over the pictures. On the occasion when the collection was shown to me, one evening at dinner at Lord Rothermere’s at Sunningdale, the critic waylaid me previously and made a personal appeal to me not to criticize the pictures to Lord Rothermere. To my amusement, he added that Lord Rothermere could be very useful to both of us. The use of ‘us’ made me laugh.

The occasion of this dinner was the placing of Rothermere’s bust in the Sunningdale house, which took place five years after I had finished the work. Rothermere had apparently forgotten the bust for that period. This bust, with its somewhat formidable character, seemed to have to be handled carefully, for when I had proposed exhibiting it on some previous occasion I was advised not to do so, as a General Election was coming on and it might possibly exert some baneful influence on events.

Lord Rother mere’s secretaries seemed particularly upset by the work. This I take as tribute to the sincerity and truth of the rendering of the character. What these ‘yes men’ expected me to do, I do not quite know; but their hostility was expressed quite frankly. I think of it as one of my best portraits.

Shaw sat on condition that I was commissioned to do the work. He thought I ought to benefit materially and not just do his bust for its own sake. Orage arranged a commission for me from Mrs. Blanche Grant, an American. Shaw sat with exemplary patience and even eagerness. He walked to my studio every day, and was punctual and conscientious. He wisecracked, of course. In matters of art he aired definite opinions, mostly wrong; and I often had to believe that he wished to say smart, clever things to amuse me. On seeing a huge block of stone, unworked, in the studio, he asked me what I intended to do with it. Not wishing to tell him exactly what my plans were, I merely remarked that I had a plan. ‘What!’ he exclaimed. ‘You have a plan? You shouldn’t have a plan. I never work according to a plan. Each day I begin with new ideas totally different from the day before.’ As if a sculptor with a six-ton block to carve could alter his idea daily! Shaw believed that sculptors put into their portraits their own characteristics, and of a bust done of him by a prince he remarked that it contained something very aristocratic. This was amusing in view of the fact that this particular bust was peculiarly commonplace.

One day Robert Flaherty brought along the Aran boatman, Tiger King, who was the chief character in the film, Man of Aran, written about fishermen. In the studio, when Tiger King was introduced, Shaw immediately started talking to him on how to sail a boat, what happened in storms, and generally instructed him in sea lore.

Shaw was puzzled by the bust of himself and often looked at it and tried to make it out. He believed that I had made a kind of primitive barbarian of him, something altogether uncivilized and really a projection of myself, rather than of him. I never tried to explain the bust to him, and I think that there are in it elements so subtle that they would be difficult, to explain. Nevertheless, I believe this to be an authentic and faithful rendering of George Bernard Shaw physically and psychologically. I leave out any question of æsthetics, as that would be beyond Shaw’s comprehension. When the bust was finished, we were filmed; and Shaw was wonderful as an actor, taking the filming very seriously.

In 1934, when the work in bronze was done, I offered Shaw a copy of the bust through Orage, but was told that Shaw could not think of having it in his house. This I believe was because of Mrs. Shaw’s dislike of it.

Throughout my life in England, Shaw has been an outspoken champion of my work, on several occasions giving the great British public lively smacks on my behalf. I will not say that he understands what I have made. He seems deficient in all sense of the plastic, but has a lively notion of how stupid the newspapers can be. He is generous to young talent, but seems likely to be taken in by cleverness or pretense. I would say that Shaw is not really interested in the plastic arts, although he can be got to take a passing or journalistic interest in controversial work. On one occasion, on visiting an exhibition of paintings of Epping Forest, not knowing what to say, he asked me if I had done the paintings with brushes.