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Wild Thing: Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska, Gill - RA

Exhibition preview

FROM October 24, 2009 to January 24, 2010, the Royal Academy of Arts is presenting Wild Thing: Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska, Gill, an exhibition of works celebrating the radical change that transformed British sculpture at the beginning of the 20th century.

Over a period of ten years (1905 – 1915), three outstanding young sculptors emerged – Jacob Epstein, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Eric Gill. This is the first time that the three artists have been shown together in this revolutionary context and many of the works have not been exhibited in London before.

The exhibition will contain more than 90 works featuring mainly sculptures, drawings and pastels. With rooms dedicated to the work of each sculptor, the exhibition will focus on the key achievements of each artist and will reveal their impact on British sculpture.

The show will bring together spectacular works, including Epstein’s robotic masterpiece Rock Drill, Gaudier’s innovative carving of Birds Erect, and Gill’s controversial carving of the sexual act called Ecstasy.

The title of the exhibition is taken from the American poet Ezra Pound, who vividly remembered meeting Henri Gaudier-Brzeska for the first time in 1913. Pound was impressed by the young Frenchman, and likened him to “a well-made young wolf or some soft-moving, bright-eyed wild thing.” But those last two words sum up the feisty and daring spirit of rebellion driving the young Jacob Epstein and Eric Gill.

The origins of these three artists could hardly have been more diverse. Epstein was a Jew from New York, Gaudier the son of an Orleans joiner, and Gill’s father a Brighton clergyman. But between them, in a sustained burst of bold inventiveness before the First World War, they brought about the birth of modern British sculpture.

And the idea of wildness lay at the centre of their revolution, looking far beyond classical art to gain inspiration from what Gaudier excitedly called “the barbaric peoples of the earth (for whom we have sympathy and admiration).”

When Epstein came to London in 1905, sculpture in Britain was ripe for a radical overhaul. He soon befriended Gill, who declared that Epstein was determined “to rescue sculpture from the grave.” Committed to carving in stone, they both aimed at returning to the prehistoric origins of sculptural expression. They were obsessed with virility, fertility and procreation. Gill described Epstein as a man “quite mad about sex”, and they shocked contemporary viewers by placing it at the heart of their work.

Then in 1911, Gaudier-Brzeska moved from France to London and a year later visited Epstein’s studio. The powerful Tomb of Oscar Wilde was on display there, and Gaudier-Brzeska was impressed. He quickly became an outstanding young sculptor and draughtsman. Only 23 when he met his death on a French battlefield in 1915, Gaudier-Brzeska was one of the greatest losses sustained by the arts during the First World War.

This unprecedented exhibition will explore the body of work executed by the three sculptors and will draw on the major themes that impressed upon the men, namely sex, fertility, the human condition, the machine age and the impact of war. The works convey the momentous sense of change taking place in London and the world at the start of the 20th century.

To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Academy will publish a catalogue written by Richard Cork highlighting the work of the three artists. It will examine the remarkable contribution they made to British sculpture at the beginning of the 20th century.

Wild Thing Gallery

Admision: £9 full price; £8 registered disabled and 60+ years; £7 NUS/ISIC cardholders; £4 12 to 18 years and Income Support; £3 8 to 11 years; 7 and under free.

Times: Daily from 10am to 6pm (last admission at 5.30pm), Friday until 10pm (last admission at 9.30pm).

For more information call 020 7300 8000 or visit the Website

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J OBD

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