Epstein was a New York-born sculptor, painter and draughtsman of Russian-Polish Jewish descent. He studied in New York and Paris, where he became interested in ‘primitive’ art. He settled in London in 1905. His, often highly controversial, public commissions included the façade of the British Medical Association Building, London (1907−08); the tomb for Oscar Wilde at Pére-Lachaise cemetery, Paris (1911); the carved relief Rima, Hyde Park, London (1924–25); and Night and Day for London Underground’s headquarters (1928–29). Often challenging prevailing notions of sexuality and beauty, he championed direct carving and favoured non-European models.
In 1914, with David Bomberg, he co-curated the ‘Jewish Section’ of Twentieth Century Art: A Review of Modern Movements at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. Associated with, but never a member of the Vorticists, he contributed to Wyndham Lewis’s journal, Blast. He was an honorary member of The London Group (credited with coining its name), sitting on the hanging committee 1915–17. Conscripted as a private in the Jewish 38th battalion of the Royal Fusiliers in autumn 1917, he was discharged after a breakdown in 1918. During the Second World War he carried out portrait commissions for the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. He received eight major commissions in his last decade, including Social Consciousness, Philadelphia (1951–53). Epstein was knighted in 1954.