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Cry the beloved country, Paton
fine art painting
fine art painting
fine art painting

Josef Herman

Polish - British ( b.1911 - d.2000 )

Cry the beloved country, Paton

  • Mixed media
  • Signed on the reverse

Image size 16.1 inches x 13.4 inches ( 41cm x 34cm )
Frame size 26.6 inches x 22.8 inches ( 67.5cm x 58cm )

£1,995.00

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Available for sale from Big Sky Fine Art; this original mixed media drawing by Josef Herman; dating from the 1950s.
The work is presented and supplied in a frame from the 1960s and behind glass.

Josef Herman was a very highly regarded Polish-British realist painter who had a significant influence on contemporary art, particularly in Wales. He produced works in a variety of mediums, but his subjects were almost always humble working people in whom he saw great dignity and strength. His work is inherently political and profoundly humanistic. Herman was among a generation of eastern European Jewish artists who emigrated to escape persecution and his often tragic personal life undoubtedly influenced his choice of media and subjects.

Josef Herman was born in Warsaw on 3rd January 1911; he was the eldest of three children living in a Jewish slum area and his father worked as a cobbler. His formal education ended at the age of twelve and he began an apprenticeship with a printer, but had to end this when he got lead poisoning. He then studied at the Warsaw School of Art and Decoration, but could not afford to stay there more than eighteen months.

He first worked in Warsaw as a commercial graphic artist and designer, where he made many associates among the capital’s intelligencia. Many of these members of the avant garde had strong left wing views in both art and literature and Herman was influenced by these. He started writing, and painting – and was a devotee of Munch. He began to exhibit his paintings, which had clear Expressionist influences.

Whilst in Warsaw around 1935-6, together with Polish painter Zimunt Bobososky, Herman founded a group of artists called The Phrygian Cap, who drew their subjects from working people.

His left wing activities meant that he spent almost two years hiding from the police and this, together with a mounting anti-Semitism, prompted him to leave Poland in 1938. He went to Brussels but when the Germans invaded Belgium two years later he fled again. He went briefly to France, then managed to get on a ship with the Polish Air Force. He was commanded to go to Glasgow and await further orders, which never arrived.

Herman spent the next four years in Glasgow; he renewed his friendship with Yankel Adler, whom he had known in Poland, and married Catriona Macleod in 1942. He started to paint again and exhibited at the James Connell Gallery, then in Edinburgh at the Aitken and Dott Gallery. He also designed for the stage and costumes for the Celtic Ballet, all in 1942.

He learnt in 1943-44 that his entire family had been killed in the Holocaust and in response began a poignant visual diary of his own childhood memories and similar nostalgic images, which later formed the subject of an exhibition and tour.

In 1944 Herman visited Wales on holiday and was so taken with it that he made his home in Ystradgynlais for the next eleven years. It was here that he really established himself as an artist. He was popular there and became a friend and creative collaborator of the Welsh artist Will Roberts. Herman became fondly known as “Joe Bach” to the people of the former mining community at the top of the Swansea Valley. He produced a series of somber-hued paintings and ink drawings, mainly of miners and their environment. In 1951 he was commissioned to produce works for the Festival of Britain and produced some stunning images of miners.

1946 he held the first in a long series of exhibitions at Roland, Browe and Delbanco and began to show internationally.

Josef Herman travelled widely to paint and his work has been exhibited internationally, in Melbourne, Auckland, Switzerland, Germany and USA.

In 1948 he became a naturalized British subject.

In 1950s and 60s he held a great number of major one man shows, including in Edinburgh, Sheffield, Bradford and Bristol. He exhibited with the London Group, becoming a member in 1952.

In 1955 Herman moved to Suffolk with his partner, Dr. Nini Ettlinger whom he married in 1961. The tragic death of their young daughter prompted them to move away, briefly to Spain, and from 1972 to West London where Herman lived until his death on 19th February 2000.

In 1975 Herman published his autobiography, Related Twilights.

Josef Herman’s first retrospective exhibition was held in 1955, being shared with L.S. Lowry at the Wakefield Art Gallery. Other retrospectives were held in Swansea in 1963 and Glasgow in 1975, which toured to Edinburgh before going to the National Museum of Wales. The last significant retrospective was held at the Boundary Gallery in London in 2011 to mark his centenary

The Josef Herman Art Foundation was launched in Ystradgynlais in 2004 to promote interest in the artist’s life and work and to encourage arts education initiatives in the area.

When he died in 2000 Josef Herman was well established as one of the most important figures in twentieth century British art and a major influence on a whole generation of Welsh artists in particular. He was a popular yet independent artist, never courting favour and remaining true to his values. His paintings of workers and ordinary people, of miners and peasants, fishermen and land workers have great humanity and honesty. Today his works grace many of the world’s major museums and galleries, including the Tate.

Herman won the Gold Medal for Fine Art in 1962 National Eisteddfod, a Silver Medal for Services to Welsh art in 1992 and the OBE for Services to British Arts in 1981. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy in 1990.


“Cry, The Beloved Country” by Alan Paton, is a seminal 1948 anti-apartheid novel set in South Africa.

The novel was a social protest against the structures of the society that would give rise to apartheid. Paton attempts to create an unbiased and objective view of the dichotomies it entails; he depicts whites as affected by ‘native crime’ while blacks suffer due to the breakdown of the tribal system. The novel was written and published in 1948; apartheid became law later that same year.

The book enjoyed critical success around the world and sold over 15 million copies before Paton’s death. The book is studied by many schools internationally and has twice been adapted as a film.

The first film adaptation was in 1951, staring Canada Lee and Sidney Poitier, the second in 1995, featuring James Earl Joes and Richard Harris, with music by John Barry and dedicated to Nelson Mandela.

This original mixed media piece to accompany the Alan Paton novel, Cry the Beloved Country, is a raw and emotional anti-apartheid symbol. It is naïve in style, and yet powerful in the political image it depicts – a black woman, naked, breasts exposed and on her knees, her short hair is knotted and her hands are clasped to her head. Her face is lifted up and her mouth is open – in protest or prayer? – and her overall demeanor is one of anguish. The background is minimal, just enough to suggest that she is kneeling on bare earth, with the suggestion of grasslands around her. The work is in two tones; a dark brown and a pale sky blue, which gives her body a kind of aura.