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Topical Budget 721-1: Art is Long - But Oratory is Longer! (1925)


Main image of Topical Budget 721-1: Art is Long - But Oratory is Longer! (1925)
35mm, black and white, 60 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

Somerville Hague makes a 12 hour speech denouncing 'Rima', a work by fellow sculptor Jacob Epstein.

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This amusing news item depicts a clash between traditional and modern art, in the form of a twelve-hour denunciation by the sculptor Somerville Hague (mistakenly credited as Homerville Hague, an artist who died in 1917) of 'Rima', a 60-foot long sculpture (hence Topical Budget's title) by Jacob Epstein that had recently been unveiled in central London's Hyde Park.

The park is also home to the famous Speaker's Corner, which provided a perfect platform for Hague's twelve-hour marathon. Only four words were actually reported in the intertitles - "Rima must be removed!" - though other reports include the assertion that the sculpture "has a head like a criminal".

The New York-born Epstein (1880-1959) spent much of his career in Britain, where he settled in 1905. His work was attended by controversy almost from the start: in 1907, his nude male figures on the exterior of the British Medical Association building (now Zimbabwe House) in London's Strand were permanently vandalised in the name of preserving decency. (The Evening Standard had already condemned the display as "A form of statuary which no careful father would wish his daughter and no discriminating young man his fiancée to see").

Epstein created 'Rima' as a tribute to one of his favourite authors, W.H. Hudson, who had died in 1922 - Rima is a wood-nymph in the novel 'Green Mansions', who consorts with the birds, which is why Epstein conceived it as an outdoor sculpture appropriate for a woodland setting. Design commenced in 1923, and it was constructed in Epping Forest in 1924, before being shipped to and unveiled in Hyde Park in 1925, where it remains to this day. Aside from the verbal denunciation captured by Topical's cameras, it was also vandalised, but this time only by paint.

The controversy even crossed the Atlantic, as demonstrated by an evocative piece in Time magazine on 29 June 1925. It began:

Ragged Pecksniffs and old women; gentlemen out for a constitutional; bright-cheeked British children who had run away from their Nannas, paused to stare and listen, moved along, were replaced by others. So all day, in Hyde Park, people came and went, but the voice of Somerville Hague, sculptor, went on forever.

Michael Brooke

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Complete film (0:59)
A Very Topical Year: 1925