A bronze sculpture modelled on a woman known as Dolores, by Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), the American sculptor, and dating to 1923, was given to Hampshire Museums Service in 1998, and has been displayed at the Allen Gallery, Alton, for a decade.
The bronze is a bust, showing a female figure to just above waist length, her torso wrapped in fabric, her arms clasped across her abdomen, so that she appears to be holding the wrapping up, and by doing so also reveals her cleavage. She has full, long and looped-up, streaky and rather unkempt hair, and large spiky earrings. There is something perhaps slightly Egyptian about her look and the styling, which is interesting as Epstein was clearly interested in Egyptology, and this was the year in which ‘Egyptomania’ in Britain was paramount, following Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in November 1922. Incidentally, Epstein was buried, like Carter, at Putney Vale cemetery.
Epstein worked mainly in England. He is well known for his bronze sculptures of females, including an early one of his wife in 1916, followed by those of his mistress Kathleen from 1921, and a host of Bohemian characters including Isabel Rawsthorne, an artist and artist’s muse (and later costume and set designer for the ballet), to ‘Selina’, an Indian woman Amina Peerbhoy who lived with the family (1925-31) and was a model for a bust in 1930. The rough-hewn realism of Epstein’s busts makes them appear remarkably bold, but they can also appear quite harsh, close to.
The earrings are a remarkable feature. They may have been studio props, or a gift from the Epsteins. Dolores, in an interview in 1930, said that Epstein thought ears the most important adjunct to a woman’s beauty.
Epstein made four different studies of Dolores in 1923. The one in Hampshire’s collection is from the third casting plaster (it is sometimes known as the ‘bust with crossed arms’). According to Epstein himself, he was pleased with this third bust which he described as:
“tragic and magnificent; Dolores was a model who was extremely suggestionable (sic), and after I made this bust, she always strutted about, keeping her arms folded in the pose of the bust, and with the same tragic and aloof expression fixed upon her face, and she took great care that she never relaxed into those careless smiles of the first head. In the studio she was the devoted model, never allowing anything to interfere with posing, taking it seriously, a religious rite. She became the High Priestess of Beauty, and this role she carried to ridiculous lengths. She even gave as an excuse to a magistrate, before whom she had appeared for some indiscreet conduct in Piccadilly, that my being in America had disorientated her, and this was taken as sufficient excuse, together with a small fine, by a magistrate indulgent to a Phryne of modern times”.
(this passage is quoted on the website of the Leicester Galleries in London which first exhibited this third Dolores bust in 1924).
Dolores is a tricky figure to investigate as this was an attractive sounding name, not her birth name, and was used by at least one other model in this period. The most credible secondary source for Epstein’s Dolores is the biography by Stephen Gardiner, Epstein: Artist against the Establishment. She apparently born in 1894 in Doughty Street, London, the daughter of an obscure Lancashire actor, and christened Norine. Her mother is said to have trouped provincial music halls. She later claimed to be half-French, grand–daughter of a general Count Fournier. She was a singer and dancer at Madame Strindberg’s nightclub, the ‘Cave of the Golden Calf’ near Regent Street, when Epstein came across her and made his first study of her in 1921. She came to live with Epstein and his wife at Guildford Street, London in 1922, and stayed until 1925, taking advantage of his generosity.
There was certainly a Dolores who started her modelling career with the fashion designer Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon) before 1914. Cecil Beaton, who credits Lucile with being the first to employ beautiful young women as mannequins (as opposed to ‘women with no particular looks’ and discarding the black maillots (sleeved tops and long johns) so that the clothes were worn directly onto the skin, describes in his ‘The Glass of Fashion’ how:
“The fame [Lucile] brought to the outstanding Hebe and Dolores is legendary. Drian, the painter, has described these tall women mincing about in their turbans and trailing trains as looking like impertinent lobsters”.
A Dolores had famously appeared at the Ziegfeld Follies review on Broadway, New York in 1917 disguised as a white peacock, dressed by Lucile. Before the War models would have been considered on the edges of Society but not part of it, successors to the demi-mondaines in Paris. However from 1922, models suddenly started to be seen as chic, not least in part due to Lucile’s introduction of them into polite circles, and to become an artist’s or sculptor’s model was in effect to gain a passport to Society. A Punch cartoon of 1924 (quoted in A Punch History of Manners and Modes by Alison Adburgham p. 315) ran:
“Who is this rather wonderful person Lady Tremayne is welcoming so effusively?”
“Oh that’s Petitia – Johnstein’s model you know”.
Gracious! Lady Tremayne is getting on in the world”.
The commentary goes on to explain that ‘Johnstein’ was a composite name made up from Augustus John and Jacob Epstein. John’s model Dorelia and Epstein’s model Dolores were evidently well known in London, and recognized wherever they went.
Again, a year after the Epstein bronze casts, Dolores modelled for Norman Hartnell’s first show in March 1924. He wrote, in his autobiography, Silver and Gold, 1955 p.40, that
“My show fascinated the old Daily Graphic to the extent of a whole column about Dolores, Epstein’s model, who wore some of my specially statuesque dresses”.
Dolores herself described enjoying her ‘vie de boheme’, her bohemian lifestyle amongst actors and artists, of whom she preferred the latter, as being “more generous and less prone to bragging”.
Epstein’s Dolores clearly shared remarkably similar looks – tall and beautiful with aquiline features – with another model, Dolores del Rio (1905-1983) born Kathleen Marie Rose in the United States. Epstein’s Dolores certainly seemed to court favour on both sides of the Channel. In 1930 American Weekly published by Hearst press ran a piece on her which described life at Epstein’s Guildford Street house, with vast exaggerations, much to his horror. He said it was“packed full of inventions conceived by the not very scrupulous brains of the scribblers who seized on her notoriety and exploited it”. One issue was to do with his feud with Augustus John. Dolores also spoke of his amassing vast art collections and his admiration “that touched the heights of adoration” for past and present artists and writers. She said that Mrs Epstein once took her out house hunting, “put a cloak over your nightdress, tie a scarf round your head and slip on your golden sandals” to find somewhere else to house his growing collection. The New York Times wrote an obituary to Epstein’s Dolores on August 20th, 1934 in which it is said to have erroneously melded the two (or three?) ladies’ biographies together, much to the distress of the latter, and this has caused confusion for art, fashion and film critics ever since. Which one was ‘Queen of the London studios’ and which caused three men to commit suicide might still be open to debate. We can at least be sure that Epstein himself knew who he had modelled:
“In 1923 I made one more head of her, which I think is the best work I did from the beautiful and fantastic Dolores. Later I can remember how, passing through Piccadilly, a strange vehicle of period 1840 or so met my gaze; complete with high stepping horses, coachman with whip, and footman. Dolores was mounted on a seat with folded arms and the air of a Queen as she passed majestically to advertise some perfume or cosmetic. Her sang-froid carried her into some strange adventures, but the use she made of my name was sometimes embarrassing, as when she married a coloured gentleman and sent the invitations to the reception in my own name. Her endless amours were a boom (sic) to Fleet Street journalists and when she died of cancer, suddenly, they must have regretted the passing of a character so colourful and accessible”.
So we can be fairly certain that Epstein’s Dolores married George Lattimore, described by the contemporary press as ‘a U.S. Negro’. She always acknowledged Epstein’s role in her life: “My head would doubtless have been well and truly turned had not the spiritual spell of the sculptor acted as my shield against the world”. It is clear, too, that she died, like her mother, of cancer. She was found dead in a basement room in Paddington, aged just forty, in 1934.
Accession no DA1998.2