Dame Sybil Thorndike

1 portrait on display in Room 33 at the National Portrait Gallery

Dame Sybil Thorndike, by Sir Jacob Epstein, 1925 - NPG 5976 - Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London

Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London

Dame Sybil Thorndike

by Sir Jacob Epstein
bronze bust, 1925
19 7/8 in. (505 mm) high
Given by the sitter's son, on behalf of the Casson family, John Casson, 1988
Primary Collection
NPG 5976

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  • Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), Sculptor. Artist of 14 portraits, Sitter in 67 portraits.

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This portrait of the actress Sybil Thorndike was commissioned by her family to commemorate her performance as Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan, a role that had been specifically written for her. Her pose is very similar to that adopted in publicity shots for the production. Her eyes are fixed heavenward and her head strains forward, beyond the viewer, in a gesture of rapt attention, 'gazing skywards as if hearing voices '. This sense of divine mission is further emphasised by the height at which Epstein requested the bust be displayed: a minimum of five feet from the floor.

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