Sir Jacob Epstein

The Little Negress

1928

Not on display

Artist
Sir Jacob Epstein 1880–1959
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 476 x 559 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1928
Reference
N04424

Display caption

The model for this study remains unknown. It is one of many drawings of women of colour Epstein made in the summer of 1928, many of which were exhibited at the Godfrey Phillips Gallery in London later that year. Epstein is primarily known as a sculptor, but according to art historian Frank Felsenstein he was also ‘a compulsive sketcher’. He developed this interest as a child, drawing figures he had seen in city crowds. He grew up in New York, the child of Polish-Jewish parents, moving to London in 1905.

This drawing was exhibited under the title The Little Negress in 1928. The use of the term ‘negress’, the female form of ‘negro’, was commonly used in the 1920s. It is now acknowledged as offensive. The term derives from the Latin for black. From the 18th century onwards it became associated with the now debunked pseudoscience of ‘race biology’. This discriminatory classification of people based on their skin colour has been used to justify racism.

Gallery label, July 2019

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