Epstein, Sir JacobT S Eliot

T S Eliot
Bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959)

Epstein had wanted to make a portrait of T.S. Eliot long before this bust was commissioned. Both artist and poet were born in America but settled in England. Whilst their backgrounds could not have been more different – Epstein grew up in the ghettos of New York, whereas Eliot was born into an illustrious family in Boston – the two men moved in similar circles amongst British intellectuals and the international avant-garde. This portrait perhaps cemented their friendship; in 1958, Epstein lit the candles on Eliot’s 70th birthday cake.
Modelled fully in the round, the portrait bust is captivating from any angle, though it is perhaps most striking in profile whereby the poet’s head arches forward in ‘an attitude of polite attention.’
Eliot had a difficult personal life; his parents disapproved of his marriage because of his wife’s mental health problems and when Eliot’s father died, their relationship had still not been reconciled. His guilt and the financial and emotional strain of his wife’s illness contributed to his own breakdown.
Much of his poetry deals with madness and disconnection, but he also had a more whimsical side, revealed in his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939), which was adapted into the famous musical Cats.