The life of a JCR President can be quite bizarre. It can also be very exciting, as among the countless hours spent in committees talking endlessly and the unpleasant tasks like telling your mates off for not doing their committee jobs, you also occasionally get to do something very cool. This week I had one of those cool moments. While I was desperately consulting my predecessor’s predecessor on how best to stop College taking all our money and generally being very mean, he told me about how College had also been quite mean during his tenure, when they tried to take a statue
owned by the JCR and put it into the MCR garden because they quite fancied it. Intrigued, I dug deeper and discovered both a great story and a very expensive piece of long-forgotten JCR property.
It all began in the JCR bar 60 years ago. Two students were sitting over their pints putting the world to rights. Ted Gough mentioned to Peter Somerset-Fry that he thought it would be wonderful if the JCR purchased a well-known piece of art to brighten up the college. He suggested perhaps a Henry Moore. Peter
countered with the suggestion of a work by Jacob Epstein, whom he speculated he could probably prevail upon to provide some work for a discounted price. He was very good friends with Epstein’s son, with whom he
happened to share a passion for motor cars. The idea, planted in the famously fertile soils of our bar, where countless great schemes have been dreamed up and nurtured through the liberal watering of many pints, bloomed into a reality after Epstein invited the JCR president and assorted others up to
his house a few weeks later. The sculptor then offered up a bronze cast
of Albert Einstein’s head, which the great mathematician had sat for in 1933, charging the very reasonable sum of £250. Following a presentation ceremony and a rather nice dinner (no doubt involving the bar at some point) the statue was placed in the library – probably to inspire the students, Einstein being quite well known for being rather clever. In the intervening six decades the knowledge of this bust’s existence and its rightful owners – the
students – was lost. Having disappeared at some unspecified point from the library it re-emerged slightly less impressively mounted in the walled and inaccessible MCR private garden, now crowned with a liberal spattering of bird shit. Only in Oxford could it not be a totally odd occurrence for a student
body to 1) come to own a piece by one of the greatest sculptors of the twentieth century because of a shared love of motor cars and 2) forget about it.
I am now engaged with the task of reclaiming the bronze and having it restored to its rightful place in the library, where the JCR and Epstein intended it to be. But how to go about this task? Well, having consulted a lawyer, I was advised to “just go and take it”, so yeah, now I have the happy prospect of gaining access to the MCR garden and walking away with a very expensive (and probably very heavy) piece of artwork, pulling off the art heist of the century on behalf of the JCR body. For the sake of my back and my
rapidly worsening relationship with College, let’s hope neither they nor the MCR has too much of a problem with this and offer to give me a hand when I ask them very nicely next week. I somehow doubt it