By Nii B. Andrews.

Paul Robeson was a polymath with a flaming social conscience.

He graduated Columbia Law School and funded his studies by performing in concerts, coaching and playing professionally in the NFL.

Robeson renounced the legal profession on account of the discrimination that he encountered; he then restricted his activities to the stage and screen as his chosen arenas for a tenacious fight against fascism and the denial of human rights.

PAUL ROBESON: Jacob Epstein; bronze, H 34.5 x W 21.5 x D 29.5 cm; 1927. Marble Plinth: H 14 x W 20 x D 22 cm. Courtesy York Art Gallery.

In 1927, Robeson’s friend – the British-American sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein, after a visit to New York executed a bronze bust of Robeson.

One art patron on viewing the bust stated, “It certainly is a work where the texture of the bronze is fascinating.

It seems to draw attention to the humanity and energy of the living subject as opposed to a more god-like flawless smoothness.”

Paul Robeson was an incredible human being with a bearing, poise and charisma not found in many.

His quiet strength and dignity were accompanied with a voice, oration, articulation that were all something to behold.

He faced and stared down Joe McCarthy and the House of Un American Activities, along with Edgar Hoover and the American government.

The extraordinary relationship between Robeson and Epstein was almost certainly based on shared values, their lived experience of bigotry and discrimination (Epstein was the son of Polish-Jewish refugees and Robeson’s father was born into slavery), and music.

Their friendship has produced a stunning piece of work of a remarkable man by an accomplished artist.

It captures the essence of pride, dignity and even defiance that were central to Robeson’s life.

Work like this is a powerful advocacy for more traditional materials such as bronze.


  1. Once again, thank you very much for providing some inspiration for the day.

    I appreciate both the image of the art piece and the powerful writing about the piece; this exquisite bronze piece depicting this extraordinary man.

    I had almost completely forgotten about him.I really should not have done so because of who he was then and what he still is now.He is indeed still relevant : Think indeed George Floyd.

    Somehow,somehow, this image evokes the more recent memories of the latter.

    Actually,there is a certain physical resemblance between this piece depicted here and the images that we saw so often of the latter in the recent past.

    I now recall hearing ,so often in my early childhood –which I lived during our fledgling years as a genuine Pan African country–that wonderful and rich voice of Robeson which was just as striking as his reputation as one who had stood and fought against the belittling of the black man.

    I agree with you that the medium of brass is so apt, its colour and quality expressing so much better the man’s raw blackness and strength than other materials might have done.

    A remarkable outcome of love between two accomplished men,one an artist and the other a musician :each one a master in his own domain of the arts .

    1. Thank you for taking the time to write such a comprehensive note in order to share your thoughts and provide valuable feedback.

      It is deeply appreciated.

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