Sculpture Journal

Jacob Epstein, Lady Gregory and the Irish question

Sculpture Journal (2017), 26, (2), 159–174.


In 1910 Jacob Epstein (1880–1959) produced a bust of the playwright Lady Augusta Gregory (1852–1932). He was the son of poor Jewish-Polish immigrants in New York; she was the daughter of an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family. According to Epstein’s 1940 memoir, these differences were reflected in an awkward encounter between a young sculptor learning his craft and a vain ‘Englishwoman’ concerned only with her appearance. Without trying to square this circle neatly, this article questions this hitherto unchallenged account by teasing out the subtle threads that connected the pair. By analysing Epstein’s complex relationship with the question of nationality during his New York childhood, the nationalistic climate he encountered when he moved to Paris in 1902 and London in 1905, and the anti-nationalist sentiment gripping Lady Gregory’s circle in and around 1910, this article questions Epstein’s account of the bust and suggests that it was the product of a meaningful encounter.

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Author details

Martin, Eoin