Reclining Nude c.1928–31 is a small graphite drawing by the British artist Jacob Epstein that depicts a young female nude figure lying horizontally on a bed or sofa. The woman’s body is positioned so that her navel forms roughly the centre point of the composition, while her head occupies the upper left and her thighs slope down to the right. Her right arm is extended towards the floor and her left arm rests behind her back. The figure’s hair is curly and seems to be pinned to the top of her head, so that her long neck and shoulders are visible. Her large, almond-shaped eyes are either cast downward or closed. The background of the drawing, particularly along the edge of the soft furnishing on which she lies, is filled with thick, loose crosshatching, and parts of the sitter’s body, including her hair, pubic hair, nipples and navel are also rendered in heavier graphite, drawing the viewer’s attention towards them. The work was produced using a soft graphite pencil on off-white wove paper and is signed ‘Epstein’ in the bottom-right corner.
Despite being known primarily as a sculptor of large public artworks (see, for example, the 1908 façade of the British Medical Association Headquarters, London), Epstein, according to art historian Frank Felsenstein, was a ‘compulsive sketcher whose drawings were far from exclusively preliminary studies for sculpture’ (Felsenstein in Silber 1987, p.199). The critic Richard Buckle noted that Epstein also ‘drew long before he sculpted’ and that ‘when excited by a model [he] would make sketch after sketch in a furious search for form’ (Richard Buckle and Lady Epstein, Epstein Drawings, London 1962, p.11).
In the spring of 1928, after being turned down for a commission to design a memorial for the English writer Thomas Hardy, Epstein engaged in an intense and highly prolific period of life drawing. Such periods would often involve him producing ‘as many as twenty a day’, according to art historian Evelyn Silber (Silber 1987, p.119). In 1940 Epstein described his reasons for returning to drawing as follows:
After so much that was large and elemental I had the desire to train myself in a more intensive method of working … I began a series of studies from the model, which were as exact as I could make them. I worked with great care, and followed the form of the model by quarter inches, not letting up on any detail of construction of plane.
(Quoted in Silber 1987, p.119.)
Seventy-five of the drawings made by Epstein during 1928 were exhibited at the Godfrey Phillips Gallery in London from October to November of that year in an exhibition entitled Drawings by Epstein.
Epstein worked almost exclusively from three female models during this period: two Indian sisters named Amina and Mariam Peerbhoy, who lived at his London residence, and an unidentified black woman. However, it is unclear which of these three, if any, was the sitter for Reclining Nude. Based on her distinctive hairstyle and her unusually large, almond-shaped eyes, the model depicted in Reclining Nude might also possibly be the subject of four Nude Drawings included in the Epstein exhibition at the Godfrey Phillips Gallery in 1928 (see plates 25–28 in Epstein 1929). Two further drawings by the artist from this period are also held in Tate’s collection (see The Little Negress 1928, Tate N04424, and Negress 1928, Tate N04425).
Jacob Epstein, Epstein: Seventy-Five Drawings, London 1929.
Evelyn Silber (ed.), Jacob Epstein: Sculpture and Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Leeds City Art Galleries, Leeds, and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1987.
Supported by Christie’s.