Josef Herman

Black and white photograph of Josef Herman © Bernard Mitchell

Last updated: 25 February 2009

Josef Herman was a Polish born artist who is remembered for his depictions of the Welsh mining community in Ystradgynlais. (Photo © Bernard Mitchell.)

Herman was born in Warsaw, Poland in January 1911, the eldest of three children in a poor Jewish family. He was schooled until the age of 12, becoming an apprentice printer and then an artist.

He attended the Warsaw School of Art between 1930 and 1932, and exhibited for the first time in Warsaw in 1932.

In 1938 he fled his homeland to Belgium due to the mounting anti-Semitism, in advance of the Germany invasion and outbreak of World War Two. He moved to France and made it to the UK, arriving in Scotland and settling in Glasgow in 1940, where he would remain for four years.

Though Herman escaped the Nazi invasion and subsequent atrocities, he lost his entire family in the Holocaust.

In 1944 he visited Ystradgynlais in the Swansea valley for a holiday, and made it his home until 1955. He was later quoted as saying: "I stayed here because I found all I required. I arrived here a stranger for a fortnight; the fortnight became 11 years."

Herman's source of inspiration was the Welsh mining community and the miners at the coal face, imagery for which he is still fondly remembered. In 1951 he won a commission to produce a mural for the Festival of Britain later that year; it was to establish his reputation as an artist in the UK.

In 1955 he moved to Suffolk with his partner, Nini Ettlinger, whom he married in 1961. The couple moved on to London in 1972, where Herman would remain until his death.

He was awarded an OBE for services to British Art in 1981 and was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in 1990. He died in February 2000.

Selected reading

  • Related Twilights (1975)

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