Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill'

Jacob Epstein1913-01/1914

Tate Britain

Tate Britain
London, United Kingdom

For this sculpture, Epstein initially set a plaster figure on top of an actual pneumatic rock drill. This ‘machine-like robot, visored, menacing and carrying within itself its progeny’ became a symbol of the new age. He even considered adding a motor to make the piece move.Following the carnage of the First World War, Epstein removed the drill, cut the figure down to half-length and changed its arms; this torso was cast in bronze, as shown here. Mutilated and shorn of its virility, the once-threatening figure is now vulnerable and impotent, the victim of the violence of modern life.


  • Title: Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill'
  • Creator: Sir Jacob Epstein
  • Date: 1913-01/1914
  • Provenance: Purchased 1960
  • Physical Dimensions: 705 x 584 x 445 mm
  • Original Title: Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill'
  • Additional Viewing Notes: The original plaster model was made in 1913 when the novelty of mechanization was being explored by the Cubist, Futurist and Vorticist movements. It was exhibited at the London Group, March 1915 (91), when the figure was mounted on an actual rock drill (see Epstein, 1940, repr. facing p. 38; Buckle, op.cit., repr. pl.94). The plaster differs from the final bronze in the treatment of the arms: the right arm has forearm and hand in the plaster, but these are left out in the bronze; whereas the left arm, which appears truncated in the plaster, is extended across the body in the bronze. An early bronze cast purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in 1956, was probably that exhibited at the London Group, June 1916 (100), as ‘Torso in Metal from The Rock Drill.’ The artist stated in The Sculptor Speaks, 1931, p.45: '“The Rock Drill” is not entirely abstract. It is a conception of a thing I knew well in New York and is my feeling of that thing as a living entity, translated into terms of sculpture. It is a thing prophetic of much of the great war and as such within the experience of nearly all and has therefore very definite human associations. He wrote further in Autobiography, 1940, p.56: ‘It was in the experimental pre-war days of 1913 that I was fired to do the rock-drill, and my ardour for machinery (short-lived) expended itself upon the purchase of an actual drill, second-hand, and upon this I made and mounted a machine-like robot, visored, menacing, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively ensconced. Here is the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein's monster we have made ourselves into.... Later I lost my interest in machinery and discarded the drill. I cast in metal only the upper part of the figure.’ Published in: Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Rights: © The estate of Sir Jacob Epstein
  • Medium: Bronze

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