By far the most important event at the gallery during the First World War, in Oliver Brown’s view, was the first Jacob Epstein exhibition that they held in 1917 (238). There was a great deal of mixed press coverage and it drew huge crowds. Some of the visitors were abusive, especially after the gallery started advertising the exhibition with a poster showing the Venus statue that formed its centrepiece.
This exhibition led to a lifelong relationship with the artist that resulted in twenty-one exhibitions, for which the Library has more than half the catalogues. These were held roughly once every three years during the artist’s lifetime, followed by a retrospective display held in 1960 (1191).
The first catalogue in the Library’s collection is for his second exhibition, held in 1920 (291), the centrepiece of which was the seven-foot-high bronze sculpture titled Christ. Again, there was highly critical press coverage that drew the crowds, and abusive letters sent to the gallery. According to Oliver Brown, one old lady had told him that “I can never forgive Mr Epstein for his representation of our Lord: it’s so un-English!”—a comment on his status as a foreigner and possibly referring to the fact that he was Jewish. There were sixteen objects on display in the Hogarth Room, including five in a glass case. The very brief catalogue is unillustrated.
An exhibition held in 1939 (704) contained nearly forty sculptures and drawings of children as well as another larger-than-life pink alabaster sculpture, seven-foot high and weighing three tons titled: Adam. The exhibition again drew crowds and copious and mixed news coverage. According to Cecil Porter, the statue was later to be exhibited as “a ‘shilling shocker’ at the North Shore, Blackpool, taking nearly £60,000 there”. There is a Pathé news video of people visiting the show that shows a woman fainting.
The catalogue of the exhibition includes illustrations of some of the children but not the Adam sculpture.
In 1942, Epstein’s work was exhibited in the Hogarth Room, while Dod Procter’s work was exhibited next door in the Reynolds Room (751–752). The centrepiece of the Epstein exhibition was the alabaster sculpture of Jacob and the Angel alongside a small number of bronzes and a drawing. This time, news coverage was less highly charged than on previous occasions. It could still be quite critical, however. Cecil Porter states that a journalist wrote in Picture Post : “it seems to me that Epstein has a quite extraordinary fund of white hot fundamental emotion, but his work is inadequate to contain it”
The joint catalogue is unillustrated. Jacob and the Angel is no. 1 in the catalogue and the only alabaster sculpture in the exhibition. There were also thirteen bronzes and a drawing on display.