Ben Uri collection

Burgundian Peasants

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. 1952-53

Object type drawing

Medium pen and ink and grey wash on paper

Materials and techniques ink | pen (medium) paper (support)

Unframed 19 x 24.3 cm

Framed 49.5 x 52 cm

Acquisition gift from Mrs Scott 1954

Accession number 1987-141

Display status not on display

Herman travelled to Burgundy in France in 1952-3. Upon discovering the village of la Rochepot, he basked in 'a fortnight of bright autumn days, and nights lit by a red moon. Just to walk in this magnificence was sheer enchantment,' he observed, 'and afterwards to draw the things I saw was an added joy'.

This drawing recalls his first encounter with the inhabitants of la Rochepot. The morning after his arrival, the area was still cloaked in deep fog but Herman could just make out ‘the silhouettes of people of a horse and cart behind them, I shouted a greeting and asked where we were. A voice called ‘Hola!’ and the horse stopped. An old peasant couple appeared at the window. Now I could see their rugged faces. The peasant said that we were above La Rochepot and that the village was a few hundred yards down the valley. Then he and the woman retreated into the fog and within seconds were swallowed up./ By the time we had breakfasted the fog had lifted. [..] The world was visible once again, and a heavenly world it was!'

The peasant was an enduring motif for Herman, observed on his wide travels abroad, whether in France, Spain or Mexico. In his autobiography, 'Related Twilights: Notes from an artist's diary', the artist explained the appeal of this avowed preference: 'the peasant is a type, but also an individual. From their very postures once can sense a world of silent expression. But more important than their shapes or their faces, their whole bodies express a kind of transcendental declaration of human independence'.

Selected exhibition history

1961 Ben Uri Picture Fair

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© Josef Herman estate

Related works

The Road to la Rochepot
by Josef Herman

by Josef Herman