By IRIS CONLAY
Sir Jacob Epstein at work in his studio on Lazarus with part of the Ecee Homo (not on exhibition at the. Tate) in the lore
THE Epstein exhibition at the Tate Gallery leaves one wondering whether this sculptor, with so much feeling and so much violence in the expression of it, so much intensity of vision and so much grandeur in its effect, was, even so, a great religious artist.
There is no doubt that his deep understanding of humanity led him to portray his sitters with a rare and passionate ardour. Future historians, looking at the Epstein bronzes of the important people of our generation, will see them as unusually dynamic characters and may well wonder why such exceptional men and women were not able to control their world more efficiently.
But when it comes to the religious works one may be awed by the majestic spirit of the Landaff Christ, but one is also shaken by the weakness of the form--out of a non-expressive cylindrical body the expressive bands and head emerge curiously unrelated to the rest.
This kind of hollowness is not apparent in Lazarus, a bound and tethered body with a pathetic, twisted, neck so movingly representative of the human race struggling towards a spiritual awakening.
The full-length recumbent Christ in alabaster is a prisoner of its mannered form. The open and generous hands, the drained-out body have a true pathos, but it is made void by the slavish adherence to a now out-eroded primitiveness in the carving of the head.
The most successful religious work remains the Cavendish Square Madonna and Child. Here Epstein has combined the symbolism and the style without doing violence or overstraining either.
The least successful is St. Michael for Coventry Cathedral. The saint is a glorious athlete in the act of vaulting over a very earthy, recumbent, devil whose fancy-dress horns are not enough to convince us of the horrors of evil any more than the leaping saint convinces us of his virile spirituality.
It is all a tragedy because with so much feeling, power and ability to create on a large scale, Epstein has given us a glimpse of a high spiritual vision of which he had intimations but never absolutely grasped with his mind or even with his hands.