Night and Day

Night - Jacob EpsteinDay - Jacob Epstein

Night and Day divided London.

Jacob Epstein’s monolithic statues Night and Day suggest cannibalism, sacrifice and lust.

Both statues concentrate on a parental situation.

Day: a sinister patriarch surrounding a naked youth.

Night: conjures Michelangelo’s Pieta – although a woman holds the body of a son (is it the sun?), extinguishing his life and his light.

Epstein believed direct carving respected the nature of the material. Night and Day skilfully respond to the shape and grain of the Portland Stone – formidable, unwavering and assertive.

Deliberately abandoning a Classical aesthetic – Epstein found inspiration in India, Mexico, West Africa and the Pacific Islands. At a time when the primitive was linked to political anarchy his realist, avant-garde style tested conventions regarding ‘suitable’ subjects for public art.

jacob epstein - night day

Commissioned as part of Charles Holden’s new headquarters for the London Underground, Night and Day were unveiled in 1928. They provoked controversy and moral panic and attempted defamation ensued, campaigns were mounted to have the sculptures removed.

Frank Pick, the managing director of the London Underground, the leading force behind 55 Broadway, took full responsibility for the statues and offered to resign. (Later, he privately admitted that the statues were not to his taste – but he stood up for his artist on principal)

In due course, Epstein removed 1½ inches from the boy’s penis and the protest died down.

Night and Day are part of the facade at St James Street Station, London.

Day, 1928, Jacob Epstein, © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection. TfL holds the copyright for all these images.
Night,1928, Jacob Epstein, © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection. TfL holds the copyright for all these images.
Jacob Epstein standing next to Night sculpture on 55 Broadway, © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection. TfL holds the copyright for all these images.

-Megan Conery