Jacob Epstein was asked to create 18 sculptures for the new headquarters for the British Medical Association on the Strand in central London. He was about 27 or 28 when he worked on these sculptures, and for him it was his first major public commission. The sculptures caused controversy even before they were finalised. An organisation that was dedicated to the repression of public vice and immorality caught sight of one of the plaster casts and they took exception to this. They orchestrated a press campaign against all the sculptures and asked for them to be removed on the grounds that they were immoral. In the end, the sculptures were allowed to stay, but they had become already famous for having caused this major controversy.
The sculptures were damaged within a few years by acid rain caused by London pollution, and this weakened the stone, and stained it. In 1937 a piece of the sculptures fell down onto the pavement and nearly injured a passer-by. This gave the owner of the building the opportunity to get rid of these sculptures, which he had not liked. He quickly erected scaffolding outside the building and asked the architect, Charles Holden, to come back and chisel off any part of the sculptures which were protruding. So Holden came along with a hammer and chisel and he knocked off feet, hands and even faces. The sculptures were mutilated.
The art world was in dismay, but it was all too late. Epstein himself hadn’t been given a chance to inspect the sculptures. He wrote in his autobiography afterwards that it was a tragedy that his first public sculpture had been lost, but also that London had lost what was the first decorative scheme that wasn’t subservient to architecture, that had what he called fundamental human meaning.