The quality of the furniture produced by the Epstein brothers of London’s East End is widely recognised as among the finest in the British Art Deco style – in terms of both design and production.
Sons of Morris Epstein, a Russian immigrant cabinet maker, and born in the early years of the new twentieth century, all six brothers followed their father into the furniture trade. Morris (also known as Solomon) retired in 1929 and his young sons, most notably Harry and Louis (Lou), went on to design and produce some of the most innovative furniture of the period.
Their style reflected the avant-garde influences of the Paris 1925 ‘Art Deco’ exhibition, seen in their use of curvilinear forms and rich veneers. These traits blended, almost unconsciously, with a certain grandeur and scale that derived from their family’s Russian background, and found expression in designs that were also in tune with the Modernist ethos emanating from continental Europe. The styling of the iconic ‘Cloud’ dining, lounge and salon suites, for instance, conveyed that sense of sunshine, fresh air and exercise that was promoted as the key to a healthy mind and body, and as an antidote to any lingering shadows of the horrors of the First World War.
Furniture in this ‘Art Deco’ style was produced, alongside the Georgian reproduction pieces that Morris Epstein had excelled in, from the 1930s until at least the 1950s. Finished to high standards, many pieces were custom-made in veneers of burr maple, sycamore or walnut. After World War II, several of the Epstein brothers, including Harry & Lou, David and Michael, and Sidney had showrooms in London, Manchester and Glasgow. A conservative, and singularly British, Art Deco style became the Epstein trademark.
During the Art Deco period the Epstein brothers traded under a variety of business names, both individually and in partnership with one or other of their brothers. Art Deco pieces from before World War II were not signed. From the 1950s, some pieces were labelled ‘H. & L. Epstein Ltd’ or ‘Epstein & Goldman’. However, over the last decade a scholarly and painstaking approach to a variety of documentary and other sources has enabled a good number of Epstein designs to be identified with confidence.