Epstein was born in New York City into a family of prosperous orthodox Jewish merchants. He took an early interest in drawing, and shortly after the turn of the century he moved to Paris where he studied in museums as well as at the Beaux Arts School and the Académie Julien. He moved to London in 1905 and took naturalization in 1911. For most of his career, his work was controversial. He was much influenced by African art. He received a commission to decorate the British Medical Association’s building in the Strand, carving eighteen over-life size nudes symbolizing the stages of life. Following complaints, they were inspected by a police officer, who pronounced them to be ‘rude.’ The Bishop of Stepney then climbed the scaffolding to look at them and declared that they were innocent of any offence. Controversy never entirely left Epstein’s work, but the latter part of his career brought him many commissions for works that subsequently were displayed in prominent locations.