Born Warsaw, Poland
Died London, England
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. His work was included in the South Bank Festival of Britain Exhibition. He exhibited widely including Lefevre (with L S Lowry, 1943), Roland, Browse & Delbanco (1946, 1948, 1952, then regularly until 1975), Ben Uri (with Bloch, 1949), Geffrye Museum (with Henry Moore, 1954), Whitechapel (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 type painting
Unframed 87 x 107 cm
Framed 108 x 130 x 13 cm
Acquisition Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax from the estate of Eleonore Marie Herman, 2017
Accession number 2018-15
Display status not on display
In his autobiography, "Related Twilights: Notes from an Artist’s Diary", Herman relates how he came upon la Rochepot by chance while travelling through Burgundy in east-central France: 'There were hills, all pink and red, tall with golden leaves in autumnal splendour ', he recalled. 'Along the road came a procession of ultramarine carts each pulled by a giant of a horse and followed by a peasant couple, the man dressed in faded blue – almost lilac – and the woman covered from head to foot in black. […] It was a fortnight of bright autumn days, and nights lit by a red moon. Just to walk in this magnificence was sheer enchantment, and afterwards to draw the things I saw was an added joy'.
The Road to La Rochepot contains the classic elements of a Herman composition: a twilight setting and palette blending urban and rural elements with stoic peasant figures at its heart. For Herman the peasant was: a type, ‘but also an individual’, through whose bodies could be expressed a ‘kind of transcendental declaration of human independence’. In the 1950s Herman was championed by the Marxist critic John Berger as a painter of ‘ordinary lives’, whose work was socially relevant and accessible to all, seen and understood by those outside of the art establishment and art institutions, particularly the working class.