Josef Herman 1911-2000
from Studies for ‘The Pit Pony’
Seven Separate Sketches c.1953-5
Pencil and ink on cream wove paper 227 x 176 (8 7/8 x 6 7/8)
Inscribed on back in pencil ‘582’ bottom right
Presented by the artist 1981
Josef Herman: Retrospective Exhibition, Camden Arts Centre, London, January-March 1980 (85a as ‘The Pit Pony Preliminary drawings ... Sheet of seven studies for the composition’)
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, pp.126-8, reproduced p.127
The peculiar scheme of Seven Separate Sketches was worked out at least by the time of the application of the ink and perhaps before, as a dividing grid in pencil is easily discernible. This somewhat unexpected arrangement, especially when taken in conjunction with Herman’s realism and the distinct differences between each of the images, lends the whole sheet a narrative quality akin to a cartoon. Presumably this effect was unintentional. Instead, it may be related to Mario Sironi’s moltiplicazioni, multi-part compositions of disparate elements, which Herman could have seen in two exhibitions in the early 1950s. Although he qualified his admiration for them – ‘even they are only a borderline achievement’ – Herman called Sironi’s painting a real ‘expression of experience’.
Several of the Seven Separate Sketches contain elements found in Herman’s eventual painting, The Pit Pony 1958-9 (T00354), or in the other preparatory drawings. However, only the sixth sketch (third row, right) shows the composition almost as it was achieved. Like the two related bi-partite sheets (T03195 and T03197), the uppermost of the seven sketches provide a landscape context. The two hills or coal tips with their soft arabesque of clouds partner a pony isolated on a straight open road. The outline of the pony is close to that repeated elsewhere, but this is the only instance amongst the Studies for The Pit Pony in which it is seen head-on; the fact that it could be reversed in this way, speaks for the generalisation of form characteristic of Herman’s work.
The miners make their appearance in the second pair of sketches. Disposed between a pair of telegraph poles, they are symmetrically placed to either side of the distant pony (now seen from behind) and handler. While the left hand figure is in the semi-reclining pose found in the sketches immediately below (as well as on other sheets and eventually in the painting), the position of the right hand figure alters from huddling in the lee of the pole (left sketch) to propping nonchalantly. The thematic flexibility of such schemes is suggested by their proximity to such contemporary canvases as Three Miners in a Landscape 1955 (private collection), which includes men slumped at the base of symmetrical poles. Similar variations are enacted in the third pair of the Seven Separate Sketches where houses with a telegraph pole are seen in the distance behind a single foreground pole. The pony and handler and the left-hand figure are all repeated, and the changes again occur towards the right. Another huddled miner in the wash sketch (left) is superseded in the sixth panel by a pair of squatting miners very close to those eventually used. The view to the houses did not appear in the painting where, despite the shift in scale to the pony, the pictorial depth is deliberately limited.
It is possible that the bust of the helmeted miner in the seventh sketch was related to the figure on the extreme right. However, as the details do not match with any precision, the different orientation and the introduction of touches of blue ink may be taken as signs that it was not for The Pit Pony.
This is one of nine sheets of Studies for ‘The Pit Pony’ presented by the artist; general issues relating to their creation are discussed in the entry on Reclining Miner (Tate T03196).
 Josef Herman, Related Twilights: Notes from an Artist’s Diary, London 1975, p.168
- work and occupations(14,300)