Ben Uri collection


Artist information

Name Josef Herman (1911-2000)

Born Warsaw, Poland

Died London, England

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Painter and draughstman Josef Herman was born into a Jewish, working-class family in Warsaw in 1911. He studied at Warsaw School of Art and Decoration (1930-31), and first exhibited in his native city in 1932. He left Poland for Brussels in 1938 and arrived in Glasgow in 1940, where he was reunited with fellow Polish artist Jankel Adler, whom he had known briefly in Warsaw. Together the two artists contributed to a resurgence of the Scottish arts scene during this period.

Herman moved to London in 1943, prior to his relocation to the Welsh mining village of Ystradgynlais (1944-55), which gave rise to his best-known body of work focusing on the Welsh miners and their community.

Herman's work was included in the South Bank Festival of Britain Exhibition in 1951 and he exhibited widely including at the Lefevre galleries, London (with L S Lowry, 1943), with the emigre art dealers Roland, Browse & Delbanco (1946, 1948, 1952, then regularly until 1975), in London, with Ben Uri (including alongside Martin Bloch in 1949), the Geffrye Museum (with Henry Moore, 1954), the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1956), Camden Arts Centre (1980), National Museum of Wales, Cardiff (1989), Abbot Hall, Kendal (2005), and many exhibitions with Flowers and Flowers East Galleries. His work is represented in many collections including London (Tate, V&A), Wales (National Museum), Scotland (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art); as well as in Canada, Australia, Israel, South Africa and New Zealand.

Object Details

Date c. 1941

Object type painting

Medium gouache on paper

Materials and techniques gouache (medium) paper (support)

Unframed 47 x 39.5 cm

Framed 60.7 x 53.2 x 3.3 cm

Signed signed and titled on the reverse of backing board: Refugees by Josef Herman

Acquisition purchased with the kind assistance of the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Art Fund 2014 via Conor Macklin of the Grosvenor Gallery

Accession number 2014-01

Display status not on display

Refugees is a rare, important early painting, thought lost for over 60 years. Herman destroyed the majority of work from this period in 1948, considering it too influenced by Chagall. Blue was the dominant colour of Herman’s Glasgow years, used as a nostalgic evocation of a lost Warsaw with its moonlit spires. Like much of Herman’s Glasgow work, this painting draws strongly on his eastern European Jewish heritage and themes. However the refugees also represent the wider displacement of peoples uprooted and forced into exile by the upheavals of the Second World War. The family’s unknown fate is symbolized by the cat with a mouse dangling from its jaw. The treatment of the figures reflects Herman’s admiration for Käthe Kollwitz, while the fearful child with her hand in her mouth is reminiscent of Goya.

Among other works from this early period are the sketch Musicians (c.1940–43) and a portrait drawing of the Yiddish poet, Avram Stencl. In 2011 Ben Uri mounted the largest exhibition to date of Herman’s work from this rare period.

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© Josef Herman estate