Josef Herman was born in 1911 into a poor Jewish family from Warsaw. Between 1930 -1932 he studied at the Warsaw School of Art where he exhibited with a young group of left-wing artists called The Phrygyan Bonnet. In 1938 anti-Semitism pogroms forced him to flee Warsaw for Brussels then France and finally to the UK. He initially settled in Glasgow, where he lived from 1940 -1943 and befriended Jankel Adler, another Polish refugee artist. Herman’s early work merged childhood memories to present scenes of pre-War Warsaw, Jewish traditions and his family.
Upon moving to the small mining town of Ystradgynlais in South Wales in 1944, Herman’s style shifted dramatically. He described how “Ystradgynlais changed my life and my work… Ystradgynlais mattered”. The area provided a wealth of inspiration and gave Herman an understanding of the hardships and warmth of community there – something which he so skilfully depicts in his drawings.
'From 1951, as I now see it, my drawing became more sculptural, the washes more controlled for that sculptural end, the contrast stronger and the line lost all the remnants of “beauty”, a thing I did not regret. Beauty and I were in a long lasting conflict but not until 1951 did I get the better of it.' Josef Herman
Herman left England in the autumn of 1958 to spend six months travelling around Andalusia.
In this 1958 drawing the weight of the figure is palpable. Differing from earlier works such as 'Two fishermen on deck', the body of this woman is both sculptural and dense. The distorted perspective makes the woman larger and adds to her powerful presence in the landscape. The dark washes of ink and determined black lines of her silhouette give the figure a substance that is typical of Herman’s more mature works.
Herman has been featured in numerous group and solo exhibitions. During his lifetime large retrospectives of his works were held at Whitechapel Gallery, London (1956), Auckland City art Gallery, New Zealand (1956), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (1957), Camden Arts Centre, London (1980), Royal Academy of Arts, London (1991), National Museum of Wales, Cardiff (1992) to name but a few. His works are also held in many public collections such as The British Museum, London, Manchester City Art Galleries, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Tate Britain, London, Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal and National Gallery, Melbourne.
Bought from the artist 4th June 1958
The Roland family, UK
R.B.D, "Josef Herman", 18th Sept - 25th Oct 1958, cat. 65
Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, 13th Dec 1958 - 11th Jan 1959
Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, 3rd - 30th March 1961, cat. 5
Eton College, Windsor, 2nd - 22nd July 1961
Manchester City Art Gallery, Athenaeum Annexe, 20th June - 15th July 1962
Leeds City Art Gallery, 6th Sept - 7th Oct 1962
Aberdeen Art Gallery, 27th Oct - 18th Dec 1962
Rumbold Gallery, Midhurst, "50 Drawings by Josef Herman from the collection of Henry Roland", 31st Dec 1962 - 25th Jan 1963, cat. 28
Middlesbrough Art Gallery, 8th - 29th May 1965
Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, 5th - 26th June 1965
Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, 3rd - 24th July 1965
Sunderland Art Gallery, 31st July - 28th Aug 1965
Darlington Art Gallery, 4th - 25th Sept 1965
The Minories, Colchester, 2nd - 23rd Oct 1965
Ben Uri Art Gallery, London, 16th Nov - 7th Dec 1965
Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, 18th Dec 1965 - 23rd Jan 1966
Willmer House Museum, Farnham, 6th March - 2nd April 1966
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, "Josef Herman", 19th July - 17th Aug 1969, cat. 47
Compass Gallery, Glasgow, "Josef Herman, Drawings", 24th April - 19th May 1971, cat. 10
Gardner Centre for the Arts, Sussex University, "Josef Herman", 16th March - 8th April 1972, cat. 29
Chapter, Cardiff, "Josef Herman" 5th - 23rd September 1972, cat. 29
"Fifty Herman Drawings from the Roland Collection", London, Graphis Press, 1974