Josef Herman 1911-2000
from Studies for ‘The Pit Pony’:
Two Separate Sketches for Whole Composition, Pony at Right c.1953-5
Pencil and ink on cream laid paper 225 x 172 (8 7/8 x 6 ¾)
Inscribed on back in pencil ‘C3B’ top right and ‘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 two studies’)
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, pp.126-8, reproduced p.127 (as Two Separate Sketches for the Whole Composition, Pony at Right)
Amongst the group of nine Studies for The Pit Pony which Josef Herman gave to the Tate Gallery are three multi-part drawings featuring the eponymous pony. One of these is Two Separate Sketches for Whole Composition, Pony at Right, the others are Two Separate Sketches for Whole Composition, Pony at Centre and Seven Separate Sketches (T03197 and T03198). As the descriptive titles suggest, all three present trial arrangements for the composition of The Pit Pony 1958-9 (T00354) with the major elements shifted in relation to each other. The drawings were conceived in the studio, probably, as was the artist’s general practice, from quicker notes made from life. By Herman’s account they were made three to five years before the final painting, and the accuracy with which the elements are anticipated is indicative of the long period that he often allowed for the development of images.
A horizontal pencil line across the centre indicates that the bi-partite division of the sheet was anticipated when the main details were positioned. The pencil drawing was then lent solidity through the application of black ink and wash which allowed gradations of tone. The differences in details and modulation of depth suggest how Herman explored the compositional possibilities. The upper of the Two Separate Sketches for Whole Composition, Pony at Right is concerned with the landscape setting: a curving road, shepherded by massive telegraph poles, sweeps between fields to the coal tip on the horizon. Miners are disposed in the foreground, but they interact within this space: the pony and handler stand in the road, as the other men (two crouching, one standing) find support at the poles. The middle of these three miners already assumes a pose (squatting with one knee raised) close to that in the final painting. Surprisingly, the figure on the left is almost unresolved, although it may approximate that on the left in the contemporary painting of Three Miners (Tate Gallery N06198). In the lower sketch, this figure takes on interlocked repose found on a number of the other sheets – notably Reclining Miner (T03196) – and on the canvas. Along with his greater size in the composition, the space is now more compact and shallow. The telegraph poles block the horizon where no tip is shown and the road begins to serve simply as part of the foreground rather than to define depth. This frieze-like quality is closer to that of the oil painting. In both sketches the pony is shown in the characteristic craning pose, the curving round of the neck echoing the curve in a different plane of the hind quarters. Its presence is very close to that in the companion bi-partite drawing.
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).