As he recalls Mr. Deacon’s birthday party, Nick remembers meeting Quiggin arriving uninvited, brought along by “a strapping black-haired model called Mona.” A bit later, Quiggin “looked across the room to where Mona was talking to Barnby and said: ‘It is a very unsual figure, isn’t it? Epstein would treat it too sentimentally, don’t you think? Something more angular is required, in the manner of Lipchitz or Zadkine.’” [BM 253-4/243]
Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) was a British sculptor associated with Vorticism and various other shades of bold modernism. His work, nearly always figurative in subject, though quite varied in both medium and appearance, was often greeted with shock and outrage by the English public for its frank sexuality and modernist distortions. For Quiggin to suggest that Epstein’s take on Mona would be too sentimental is a joke that points in two directions: Quiggin in the 1920’s must have been quite a whopping avant-gardist to find Epstein sentimental, and Mona must have been quite severe of figure to leave Epstein not up to the task of representing her. These photos of Epstein’s carved figures for the London Underground headquarters suggest why we say so. The were unveiled in 1928, around the time that BM takes place, to great public furor.
Chaim Jacob Lipchitz (1891-1973) was born of Jewish parents in Lithuania, moved to France and became known as Jacques, and finally moved to the United States in 1940 to escape the German occupation. In the period just before A Buyer’s Market, Lipchitz had made his reputation as a Cubist figurative sculptor, working in the company and shadow of Picasso and Juan Gris. Later, Lipchitz softened his forms in favor of a more organic vocabulary, but this limestone figure of his from 1917 gives a sense of what Quiggin thinks might be necessary to capture Mona’s type.
Lipchitz’s contemporary, Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) was an immigrant to France from Belorussia. Though Jewish as well, Zadkine managed to survive the war in France and lived there till his death. Zadkine’s sculpture and painting was a little less orthodox in its Cubism. But this example of a female figure from 1922, taken together with the Lipchitz, suggests that Quiggin has not underestimated a certain angular hardness that Mona will exhibit in the pages to come.
Artists models are one of many recurring topics in Dance. Mona is reputedly based on Sonia Brownell, who eventually married George Orwell. In TKBR (pp 161-162) Powell recounts his adventures publishing the autobiography of another model, Bette May, of whom Epstein did a bronze head. In a book review on artists’ models in SPA… (p251), Powell discusses the role of sexism and eroticism in our perceptions of models, and based on his own experiences sitting for portraits, says: “Certainly, few persons who have ever sat for a portrait can have felt anything but inferior while the process is going on…”
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