Artist: Sir Jacob Epstein
Location: Philadelphia Museum of Art: West Entrance
Unveiled in 1955
With his work "Social Consciousness," Sir Jacob Epstein gave Philadelphia his vision of the pain endemic to human affairs, and the compassion and sympathy necessary to console those in pain. The Mother Eternal, the bronze statue in the middle, leaves her arms outstretched to accept the world. The Great Consoler, flanking the Mother Eternal on the left, gives compassion to the youth in pain. On her other hand, Succor accepts the young man when he needs support the most (1).
Jacob Epstein's work had been the subject of controversy for his entire career. Epstein was born in New York, and he moved to London as a young man. He held a particular interest in images of fertility and maternity. Many of his public commissions aroused such descriptions as "vile," "ugly," and "vulgar" (1).
When Epstein's work was unveiled in 1955, a veteran's organization and newspaper reporters condemned the work. While critics have complained that the figures look unnatural and awkward, Epstein believed everyone would understand the symbolism of Social Consciousness in his figures (1) (2).
(1) Bach, Penny Balkin. "Public Art in Philadelphia." Temple U. Press. Philadelphia. 1992: 242
(2) Brenner, Roslyn F. "Philadelphia's Outdoor Art." Camino Books. Philadelphia. 1987: 24