Sir Jacob Epstein was a monumental and portrait sculptor. He was born on 10 November, 1880, in New York, of polish-Jewish parents. He studied art at the Art Students League, New York, and at night school from 1896-99, before going to Paris where he studied at the Ecole Des Baeux-Arts and the Academie Julian from 1902-04. He settled in London in 1905 and became a British citizen in 1907. He was commissioned to carve eighteen figures for the British Medical Association's headquarters in the Strand, 1907-08, the resulting works causing strong controversy. He worked in Paris from 1910-12, during which time he carved the Oscar Wilde Memorial in Pere Lachaise cemetery (1910-11) and met Picasso, Brancusi, Modigliani and others. On his return to England he produced abstract works and was associated with the Vorticist Movement for which his "Rock Drill" (1913-14) is probably the most important example of Vorticist sculpture. He was a foundation member of the London Group in 1913. His first one-man exhibition was at the Twenty-One Gallery in London in 1913. In the following years he executed many commissions, several of which provoked public outcry, for buildings, and had numerous exhibitions in London at the Leicester Galleries, usually showing portrait busts. In the years after the First World War he also produced a number of works on religious themes. He held numerous awards and honours and was knighted in 1954. He remained busy with commissions until his death in London on 19 August 1959. Principal exhibitions of his work were retrospectives at Leeds in 1942; Tate Gallery in 1952 and 1961; the Edinburgh Festival in 1961; and a Centenary Exhibition at the Ben Uri Gallery in 1980. He published his autobiography, "Let there be Sculpture," in 1940 (revised as "Epstein: An Autobiography," 1955).
Epstein's major avant-garde public sculptures never failed to provoke the most extraordinary contempt and vilification in the popular press. However, his modelled heads and busts, often of famous people, were usually well-received and admired. The model for this bronze piece was a Levantine woman named Doris Ahmed, a friend of Epstein's wife Peggy Jean Epstein, who lived at number 18 Hyde Park Gate, London, where the work was made. Sittings for the piece took place over a period pf three weeks. Doris Ahmed's father came from the Middle East; she was not an Arab dancer as has been suggested by Buckle.