SCULPTURES IN PHILADELPHIA
By Richard Carreño
Posted 9 July 2014
[WritersClearinghouse News Service]
Despite their coevality, a cursory comparison would not suggest much commonality between Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952). Einstein, of course, went on to create the Theory of Relativity; Weizmann, in 1949, was among the founders of the new State of Israel. (He also became its first president).
Interestingly enough, Weizmann, like the physicist Einstein, was also a scientist. They were both Jewish refugees, on the run from Nazi terror. And they both wound up, at different times in 1933, in the London studio of Anglo-American sculpture Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), where, thanks to Epstein's artistic skill, nay, genius, they were immortalized in bronze busts that have become the iconic images of both men.
Einstein and Weizmann have something else in common: Epstein's sculpted tributes to them share nearby space in a little-known installation at the Van Pelt Library at the University of Pennsylvania.
For Philadelphia, the Penn-sited busts also contribute to a startling statistic; they double, yes, double, the number of Epstein sculpted works believed to be available for public viewing in the city. A large, outdoor sculpture, titled Social Consciousness, is located (and, unfortunately, largely ignored) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and a bust of Epstein's wife is part of the permanent collection at the La Salle University Museum.
To be sure, the Einstein and Weizmann busts at Penn aren't among the original bronze castings. (Among those whose whereabouts are known, one Einstein bronze is housed at Tate Britain in London; a Weizmann bronze takes pride of place at the Weizmann House museum in Rehovot, Israel, about twenty miles south of Tel Aviv).
The Penn busts are among a number of authorized plaster versions in a series that the New York-born artist sculpted from the early 1900s until a few years before his death in London. (By that time, he was Sir Jacob Epstein). Besides Einstein and Weizmann, Epstein molded the visages of more than sixty notables during this period, with most of the plaster versions -- in what is believed to be one of the largest collection of these works -- at the Israel Museum in Jersusalem. His subjects comprised the era's great and the good (and, depending on one's viewpoint, maybe several of lesser stature), including George Bernard Shaw, Paul Robeson, and Winston Churchill.
Throughout his life, Epstein courted controversy. Even some quarrelsome critics suggested that the Weizmann bust portrayed the Zionist leader too much in the fashion, with a similarly jutting bearded jawline, of Lenin.
One of Epstein's most contentious commissions were sculptures, in 1929, for a new home office building for the London Underground, then known as the London Electric Railway. His in-situ works were boldly naked, raising cries that they be removed. They weren't, and today are not to be missed, at 55 Broadway.
The Penn busts are on long-term loan from the California-based Morris Morgenstern Foundation. The foundation's current head, Richard Morgenstern, is 1968 Wharton School graduate.
A Penn spokeswoman was curiously circumspect in detailing the acquisitions. They've been on display for 'numerous years,' she noted.