MGM 2006 - Embracing The Exotic, Hatton Gallery Newcastle

By Caroline Lewis | 01 May 2006
photo of a sculpture an exotic nude woman

Dora Gordine, Javanese Dancer. Courtesy the Hatton Gallery

The work of two pioneering sculptors is on show at the Hatton Gallery until May 20 2006, with special related activities for Museums and Galleries Month (MGM).

Sir Jacob Epstein and Dora Gordine both embraced the exotic, as the title of the exhibition suggests, but the former is far better known than his female contemporary. Embracing the Exotic aims to highlight how both prolific artists were inspired by non-western culture in their work, which took Ewardian society by surprise.

“Epstein was a pioneer of modern sculpture” says Hatton Gallery Curator Lucy Whetstone. “Even someone unfamiliar with his name is likely to have heard of his work.”

“For example, one of his early commissions was for the monument on Oscar Wilde’s tomb, in Le Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, and there’s the Rima figure that forms the WH Hudson memorial in Hyde Park, St Michael’s victory over the Devil on Coventry Cathedral, and Llandaff Cathedral’s aluminium Christ in Majesty,” she continued.

drawing of a man with an open necked shirt

Jacob Epstein, Self Portrait (1901). Courtesy the Hatton Gallery

Epstein was one of the first British-based artists to assemble his own collection of primitive art, buying African and Oceanic works. Both he and Gordine were among the first British artists to use non-European models, too.

Epstein concentrated on nudity, fertility and birth in his work, arousing horror in the prim society of the day (the 1900s). The controversy over his work reached a pinnacle in 1907 with the unveiling of The Ages of Man on the British Medical Association building (now Zimbabwe House) on The Strand. The 18 monumental male nudes on the building façade were later mutilated for decency.

“Epstein deliberately set out to challenge what he called ‘prudity over public nudity’,” says Lucy. “He wasn’t at all fazed by nudity; he worked from live exotic models, so his sculptures were very realistic. When they were shown in public, it was often the first exposure people had to nudes of black women, and they found it really shocking.”

sculpture of an oriental man's head with closed eyes

Dora Gordine, The Chinese Philospher. Courtesy the Hatton Gallery

His preference for non-Western models is represented at the exhibition in several striking studies of the Kashmiri Amina Patel (known as Sunita) and Nan Condron, a young Gypsy woman.

Gordine was a self-taught sculptor and society figure who launched her career in Paris and went on to travel wildly. She, too, concentrated on non-Western models, which can be seen in the exhibition. The bronze bust The Chinese Philospher is one of her most famous works, as is Javanese Dancer.

The Hatton exhibition is the first time in more than 50 years that many of Gordine’s works have been on show.

For MGM, the gallery has put together ‘Discovery Trails’ for younger visitors to look at the connections between the sculptors’ work. A short story competition has also been launched – see the gallery’s website for more information.

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