Kenyon College

Bust of Albert Einstein


Jacob Epstein
(British, 1880-1959)

Bust of Albert Einstein, c. 1933.
21 1/8 inches high.
Kenyon College Collection; Gift of Mr. Alan Bell ’74.

On Public View: Kenyon College, Hayes Hall, Lobby

In 1933, while taking refuge at an army encampment near Cromer, England, Albert Einstein sat for sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880-1959). Einstein came to Cromer as the guest of Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson while preparing to immigrate to the United States, where he became a founding member of the School of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton University. Over the course of one week of his itinerancy, Einstein posed for Epstein for two hours each day. The artist’s recollection of his subject during these sessions offers a vivid and animated description of the resulting sculpture. Epstein recounted that, “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 that delighted me. He resembled the ageing Rembrandt.” Indeed, the arresting gaze of the portrait, along with the densely layered textures that describe Einstein’s features exhibit the hallmarks of the great 17th-century Dutch master’s self-portraiture. Also, the sculptor’s vigorous handling of the media, which characterizes his most accomplished bronze heads, exemplifies the modernist propensity for exploiting the inherent qualities of materials to achieve authentic expression. However, Epstein’s harshest critics condemned the raw, coarse vitality of his work as barbaric. This hostility stemmed from the xenophobic drive to purge modern art of “racial impurities,” which took root in Germany and spread throughout Europe in the inter-war years. As an American-born Jew of Polish descent, Epstein was the target of Anti-Semitic attacks in Britain. Nevertheless, he remained in England until his death in 1959, having earned official recognition as a pioneer of British modern sculpture when he was knighted in 1954.