Two men with shovels, 1956
Pen, ink and wash on paper
6 3/4 x 8 7/8 in, 17.2 x 22.5 cm
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
In this 1958 drawing the weight of the figure is palpable. Differing from earlier works the body of the figures are both sculptural and dense. 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. The drawing elegantly achieves Herman’s overarching aim of capturing the “dignity of the ordinary and the everyday”.
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.
The Roland family, UK
(acquired directly from the artist 11 May 1956)
Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield,
13 December 1958-11 January 1959
City Art Gallery, Bradford, 1-29 August 1959, cat. 36
Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, 3-30 March 1961, cat. 6
Manchester City Art Gallery, Athenaeum Annexe, 20 June-15 July 1962
Leeds City Art Gallery, 6 September-7 October 1962
Aberdeen Art Gallery, 27 October-18 December 1962
Rumbold Gallery, Midhurst, 31 December 1962-25 January 1963
Middlesborough Art Gallery, 50
Drawings by Josef Herman, 8–29 May 1965, cat. 24, toured to
Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, 5-29 June 1965; Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, 3-24
July 1965; Sunderland Art Gallery, 31 July-28 August 1965; Darlington Art
Gallery 4-25 September 1965; The Minories, Colchester, 2-23 October 1965; Ben
Uri Art Gallery, London, 16 November-7 December 1965; Towner Art Gallery,
Eastbourne, 18 December 1965-23 January 1966; Willmer House Museum, Farnham, 6 March-2
Gardner Centre for the Arts, Sussex University, Josef Herman, 16 March-8
April 1972, cat. 25
Chapter Gallery, Cardiff, Josef Herman, 5-23 September 1972, cat. 25