Josef Herman Reclining Miner c.1958

Artwork details

Artist
Josef Herman 1911–2000
Title
Reclining Miner
Date c.1958
Medium Ink on paper
Dimensions Support: 175 x 225 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by the artist 1981
Reference
T03196
Not on display

Catalogue entry

Josef Herman 1911-2000

from Studies for ‘The Pit Pony’
Reclining Miner c.1953-5

T03196

Ink on cream wove paper 176 x 227 (6 7/8 x 8 7/8)

Inscribed on back in pencil ‘1D’ top right and ‘582’ bottom right

Presented by the artist 1981

Exhibited:
Drawing Towards Painting, Arts Council tour 1961-2, Leicester Art Gallery, October-November 1961, Arts Council Gallery, Cambridge, November-December, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, December 1961-January 1962, Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry, January-February, Gracefield Art Centre, Dumfries, February-March, Nottingham University Gallery, March, Turner House, Penarth, April, York City Art Gallery, May, Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, June, Arts Council Gallery, London, July-August, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, August-September 1962 (no number)
Josef Herman: Retrospective Exhibition, Camden Arts Centre, London, January-March 1980 (85a as ‘The Pit Pony Preliminary drawings’)

Literature:

Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, pp.126-8, reproduced p.127

Reclining Miner is one of nine sheets of ink drawings which Josef Herman gave to the Tate Gallery in 1981 (T03194-T03202). They relate directly to The Pit Pony 1958-9 (T00354), a major canvas which had been in the collection since 1960, and the gift coincided with the acquisition of the early pastel, Pregnant Woman with Friend 1946 (T03193). Like both of those works, the drawings concentrate upon Herman’s favoured subject matter of the Welsh miners of Ystradgynlais, where he lived between 1944 and 1955. Despite their relation to The Pit Pony it is unclear how far the nine drawings constitute a complete body of work with some internal logic. Although none were mounted or framed when they arrived,[1] the fact that four were shown in 1961 casts doubt on the likelihood of a defined group.[2] This is further confused by the descriptions which accompanied that showing and which make it difficult to identify them specifically; this having been said, it is likely that Reclining Miner and Two Sketches of Two Seated Miners, Sketch of a Single Miner (T03194) were the two ‘made to clarify the figures’.[3]


At least on the matter of dating, the artist was clear: he told the Tate not long after the gift that the drawings were all made in Wales in ‘about 1953-4-5’.[4] Glossing over the difficulties in his personal life over the ensuing years, he added that there was no particular reason for the delay in realising the 1958-9 canvas and that ‘the thing was in my mind waiting for a clarified image’.[5] Indeed, the extended period allotted to the drawings reflects the gradual emergence of images from within Herman’s working practice. Evidence for this is found in a much larger group of drawings also donated by the artist (to the Tate Gallery Archive) in which similarly seated and squatting miners appear as perennial subjects. Amongst those closest to The Pit Pony are two compositions including a pair of miners resting by a telegraph pole,[6] and these may relate to the small oil Two Miners 1955 (private collection).[7]


In a text of 1958 which used the contemporary Miners at Pit Head 1958 (private collection)[8] as an example, Herman explained how a composition could bring together tried and tested elements

The two men against the telegraph pole are from a drawing I made round about 1946, the sitting miner and the landscape from a pencil drawing in 1954 when I have also made the full pen and ink drawing, while the idea to make of it a picture came to me in 1957. Thus the ‘conscious purpose’ is part of a long-term attitude.[9]

It is probable that a similar account could have been given of the origins of The Pit Pony. Not only does this suggest the continuity of the artist’s work over the period of that ‘long-term attitude’ but, equally significantly, it reflects his view of a timelessness in the lives that supply his subject matter.

The same text includes the artist’s elucidation of his general methods in developing a composition:

I find myself mostly making notes, so to speak, on the spot. These cannot be called ‘sketches’, still less ‘drawings’. They are more like diagrams to register a situation in memory. The luckier of these notes have the clarity of a composition and are later in the studio made into drawings, or pictures, or both. At this stage reality is no longer consulted, but the experience of it ... [10]
The preliminary ‘diagrams’ were not made public at the time, though early sketches made down the mines confirm the brevity of his work on the spot.[11] The confidence of the Studies for The Pit Pony suggests that they belong to the category of studio drawings made from these preliminaries, in which the distillation of detail and form was carried out independently of the motif. As such they were in direct preparation for a final composition; the artist continues:
I follow this little image whose memory brings illumination to the mind and shapes poetry out of a mood. A miner leaning against a telegraph pole is not only a fact to be registered but also a mood to be experienced, and poetry of it is the synthetic language of a symbol. All relevant symbols are rooted in reality.[12]

This makes clear Herman’s view of the artist establishing a synthesis of reality and experience without the trammels of naturalism

While the Studies for The Pit Pony are thus identifiable as pivotal studio drawings, the relation of those within the group requires clarification. None seem to be obviously earlier in time, although the two larger sheets (T03201, T03202) are the least directly connected with the canvas. Of the remaining seven (all of which are on the same size though not the same type of paper), three sheets show the exploration of a multiplicity of alternatives in detail (T03195, T03197, T03198), while two wash sketches establish the tonal structure as it was used in the painting (T03199, T03200). Reclining Miner may be seen as a companion to the multiple figure sketch, Two Sketches of Two Seated Miners, Sketch of a Single Miner (T03194), as each uses line to explore the pose of major figures. This may place them close to the final painting which they anticipate fairly accurately. The relationship of Reclining Miner to the left-hand figure is particularly close: notably in the simplified oval of the face, and even in the figure’s placement against the pole and below the horizon. However the swift linearity of the drawing was superseded on the final canvas by the dense handling of the oil paint which serves as an analogy for the miner’s relationship with the matter of the earth.

Matthew Gale
November 1998

[1] Tate Gallery conservation files
[2] Drawing Towards Painting, Arts Council tour 1961-2, (no number)
[3] Ibid.
[4] David Fraser Jenkins, notes of a conversation with Josef Herman, 16 December 1983, Tate Gallery cataloguing files
[5] Ibid.
[6] Untitled composition and Untitled composition: Study at Evening, Tate Gallery Archive 835.30, 835.68
[7] Reproduced in Josef Herman, Paintings and Drawings 1940-1956, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1956, between pp.16 & 17, pl.XXVII
[8] Reproduced in ‘Painter’s Purpose: Josef Herman’, Studio, vol.156, no.787, October 1958, p.113 (colour)
[9] Ibid. p.112

[10] Ibid.

[11] E.g. untitled drawings, 1944, reproduced in Josef Herman, The Early Years in Scotland and Wales, Llandybie 1984, pp.92-102

[12] ‘Painter’s Purpose; Josef Herman’, Studio, vol.156, no.787, October 1958, p.112

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