Sculptor Jacob Epstein was born into a relatively prosperous family of Polish-Jewish immigrants in New York City, USA on 10 November 1880, but as a teenager rejected the Orthodoxy of his upbringing. From 1893–98 he attended classes at the Art Students' League and was inspired by the multicultural communities around him. After spending the winter of 1899–1900 cutting ice in New Jersey, he turned to sculpture, working in a bronze foundry (1901–2). On the proceeds of his first professional commission to illustrate Hutchins Hapgood’s The Spirit of the Ghetto (1902), he sailed to Europe. In Paris he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts (1902–3) and the Académie Julian (1903–4), sharing the appreciation of artists including Picasso and Modigliani, for Indian and West African art traditions.
Epstein moved to London in 1905 and owned a studio near Hyde Park as well as two cottages in Loughton, Essex, sculpting many of his large-scale installations in the latter. In 1907 he received his first major British commission and created 18 nude sculptures for the facade of the British Medical Association Building (now Zimbabwe House) on the Strand. This commission, like many of Epstein’s other early works, was highly controversial and criticised as indecent. A champion of direct carving, he was also associated with the short-lived Vorticist group, co-curated the so-called 'Jewish Section', part of the Whitechapel Art Gallery's 'Review of Modern Movements', with David Bomberg in 1914, and was a co-founder of the London Group. He was Patron of the Ben Uri art Society in 1936–37.
His work often challenged prevailing notions of sexuality and beauty and favoured the non-European model. However, his portrait heads, usually cast in bronze, were always in demand. Epstein also painted in watercolour and gouache, and his scenes of Epping Forest were frequently exhibited in Leicester Galleries, London. Epstein died in London, England on 21 August 1959 and was buried in Putney Vale cemetery. More than 300 of his works are in UK public collections including the Ben Uri Collection, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate and the V&A.