Legacies: stereotypes, racism and the civil rights movement

Paul Robeson

Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), about 1940

Object number 707
Purchased from CA Jackson

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Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson was one of the most famous, and controversial Americans of his time. He was an actor, film star, singer and civil rights activist. He lived and worked in Britain between 1927 and 1939.

One of the legacies of slavery was that black people were usually depicted in Western art as ‘ugly savages’, or stylised ‘exotics’ with white rather than African features. Epstein’s naturalistic busts of black people broke new ground. Robeson himself, with his handsome African features and charismatic intelligence, challenged these stereotypes.

This bust is part of the Bright bequest, given to Rochdale Art Gallery by the descendants of John Bright MP, himself a vocal anti-slavery campaigner. The family made their wealth from their cotton manufacturing business. The bust was made by sculptor Jacob Epstein, who was prominent in the anti-fascism movement and exhibited with the left-wing Artists International Association throughout the 1930s.

This information was provided by curators from Touchstones Rochdale.