As one of the leading artists of the twentieth century Ė Jacob Epsteinís sculptures were frequently regarded, as representations of religious themes. The purpose was to express emotions beyond what can be seen. He provoked his primitive instincts to express the human struggle through his art. And it was the primitive art and culture of the Middle East and South America that were his greatest influence.
Epstein was also a great collector of art from the continent. Itís reasonable to assume from this, that he was probably familiar with the Islamic, Christian and Jewish affairs of the time. He was a pioneer in his field influencing the likes of Henry Moore and those that followed. The primitive style of Epstein challenged the post-renaissance western imagery of his day and in 1959 he was rewarded for his efforts with a Knighthood.
Of the many works Epstein created one of his best known is the Memorial Tomb of Oscar Wilde in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery Paris 1912.
Though a better model for the appreciation of Epsteinís work is the alabaster sculpture of Jacob and the Angel 1940-1.
In the Old Testament Jacob wrestles throughout the night with a mysterious adversary. In the sculpture - the Angel holds Jacob who has finally buckled dislocating a thigh in the struggle. Epstein captures Jacob at the point of realisation that he has been struggling with God. In the morning heís blessed by the Angel for his refusal to give up. The representation by Epstein has been regarded as both a personal struggle with base instincts as well as a cultural struggle, particularly the plight of European Jews at the time of the Second World War.