Epstein's Medical Sculptures
A series of carved figures that scandalized British society.
Just above the hustle and bustle of the teeming hordes of London, there is a grouping of naked effigies calmly looking down.
The building now known as the Zimbabwe House used to be the headquarters of the British Medical Association, and in 1908, an artist named Jacob Epstein was commissioned to sculpt 18 statues to adorn the premises. He beautifully carved the human body in its natural form. But as this was just after the Victorian era, the figures’ state of undress caused great outrage and consternation.
A petition was filed by a consortium devoted to the suppression of public “vice and immorality.” The appeal eventually lost and the statues were allowed to remain, but they would still not endure unscathed.
As these figures were outdoors, they became victims of the elements and casualties of the ever-growing pollution of industrial London. Erosion and acid rain had made them susceptible to breakage. In 1937, a piece fell off onto the street below and almost struck a pedestrian. The owner of the building, who was not a fan of the artwork in the first place, was given the opportunity to have the sculptures removed. Any part of the figures that were protruding—feet, hands, facial features—were chiseled off. Epstein was not given a chance to save his work from mutilation, and so this is how we still see them today.
Know Before You Go
The sculptures are easily visible at any time, though best viewed during daylight hours. The building is just a block away from Charing Cross Station heading East.
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