Finding Adam: Jacob Epstein's Modern British Sculpture masterpiece back at Harewood House

By Nick Owen | 18 April 2011
A photo of men installing a statue of a beast into a gallery
© Kippa Matthews
Exhibition: Finding Adam, Harewood House, Leeds, until July 31 2011

Finding Adam charts the remarkable 50-year journey of Sir Jacob Epstein’s masterpiece, Adam, from a "cabinet of curiosities" in Blackpool to its current home in Harewood House.

The exhibition also commemorates the 50th anniversary of the critically acclaimed 1961 Edinburgh International Festival and features pencil drawings and other carved pieces by the sculptor.  

Recognising the piece as a serious work of modernist sculpture, it was Lord Harewood who purchased Adam from Louis Tussaud’s waxworks in Blackpool, where the sculpture had stood as part of a titillating display for adults in the building’s basement.

The 1961 retrospective exhibition of Epstein’s work in Edinburgh, for which Adam was bought, is now seen as the turning point when Epstein began to be seen as one of the 20th century’s greatest sculptors. 

Carved from a single piece of Derbyshire alabaster, the heroically proportioned Adam caused shock and outrage when it was first exhibited in the late 1930s, and continues to divide opinion to this day.

Drawing inspiration from his extensive collection of North African and Indian artefacts, Epstein subverted the conventional and modest biblical depiction of Earth’s first man for a primitive fertility idol.

The basis for other controversial Epstein works can be seen in the pencil drawings displayed in Finding Adam. Drawings of Sunita, a Kashmiri model who came to live with Epstein and his family, are also on display.

Sunita and her son Enver were used to depict Christ and the Virgin in Epstein’s 1927 sculpture New York Madonna and Child, which challenged European stereotypes of racial features suitable for the two religious icons.

The influence of Epstein on other seminal sculptors such as Henry Moore cannot be overstated. Other works from Epstein’s contemporaries, drawn from public and private collections across the UK, are on display at Harewood in support of Adam.

The Harewood exhibition is part of Art in Yorkshire supported by Tate; a yearlong celebration of the visual arts in 19 galleries throughout the county. Works from Tate's collection of historic, modern and contemporary art will be showcased through a compelling programme of exhibitions and events.

  • Open 10am-4pm. Admission £4.50-£8.25 (family ticket £25-£27.50).
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