Josef Herman

Evening, Ystradgynlais


Not on display

Josef Herman 1911–2000
Oil paint on canvas
Unconfirmed: 635 × 851 mm
frame: 875 × 1095 × 90 mm
Presented by the Roland Collection 1992

Display caption

Herman’s work was prominently featured in an exhibition called Looking Forward, organised in 1952 by John Berger. Berger adopted a broad view of social realism, and included Herman’s work despite its expressionist treatment of colour and form, and evident lack of period detail. Herman lived in Ystradgynlais, the mining village in south Wales shown here, and Berger felt that his paintings were of direct relevance to modern society.

Berger described Herman’s paintings as representing the ‘oppression, endurance, the weight of labour’. The notion that art should be about life was fundamental to Berger’s position.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Josef Herman 1911-2000

Evening, Ystradgynlais 1948


Oil and tempera on canvas 635 x 851 (25 x 33 ½)

Presented by the Roland Collection 1992

Purchased from the artist by Dr Henry Roland 1949

“Pictures of Mining Life” by Josef Herman, Geffrye Museum, London, October 1949 (no catalogue found)
Henry Roland Collection, York City Art Gallery, March 1950 (15), Hatton Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, April-May (29), Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, June-July (15), Brighton Art Gallery, September (15)
Fifteen Contemporary British Artists, Leeds City Art Gallery, December 1950 - January 1951 (38)
Contemporary British Painting: A Festival of Britain Exhibition, Bristol City Art Gallery, May-June 1951 (12, as Evening Street Scene at Ystradgynlais, 1949)
Festival of Britain: Anglo-Jewish Exhibition 1851-1951, Ben Uri Gallery, London, July-August 1951 (31, as Evening in Ystradgynlais)
Modern Painting and Sculpture of the British and Continental Schools from the Collection of Dr H. M. Roland, Hampstead Artist Council, London, January-February 1952 (13)
Expressionist Painting, Roland, Browse and Delbanco, London, June-July 1952 (3)
Five Contemporary British Painters, British Council tour of Canada 1952-3, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, October 1952, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, November, Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, December, Musée de la Province de Quebec, January 1953, London Art Gallery, February, Hamilton Art Gallery, March, Winnipeg Art Gallery, April, Calgary Art Gallery, May, Vancouver Art Gallery, June 1953 (13, reproduced as Evening in Ystradgynlais)
Some Works by Henry Moore and Josef Herman, Geffrye Museum, London, Feb. 1954 (no catalogue found)
Paintings and Drawings: L.S. Lowry, Josef Herman; Pottery: Nehemiah Azaz, Wakefield City Art Gallery, May-June 1955 (58, reproduced p.12)
Josef Herman: Paintings and Drawings 1940-56, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, March-April 1956 (13, reproduced pl.11, as Evening at Ystradgynlais)
Painters from Wales, Artists International Association Gallery, London 1956 (no catalogue)
La Peinture Brittanique Contemporaine, Galerie Creuze, Paris, October-November 1957 (40)
Eerste Biennale van de jonge hedendagsche Schilderkunst, Bruges, May-September 1958 (166)
The Continental British School of Painting, Wakefield City Art Gallery, January-February 1959, Bradford City Art Gallery, February-March (31, as Evening at Ystradgynlais), AIA Gallery, London, March-April (20)
Josef Herman, Bradford City Art Gallery, August 1959 (1)
International Choice, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, July-August 1960 (85)
Modern Works from the Collection of Dr Henry M. Roland, Manchester City Art Gallery, June-August 1962, Leeds City Art Gallery, September-October (48, reproduced)
Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales, Llanelly, November 1962 (2)
Josef Herman, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, April 1963 (2, reproduced)
Josef Herman, Marlborough College, June-July 1963 (no catalogue)

On loan to Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, September 1963-April 1964

Works by Moore, Herman and Sutton, Geffrye Museum, London, June 1964 (13)

The Roland Collection, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, Dec. 1965-March 1966 (no catalogue traced)
The Roland Collection, Willmer House Museum, Farnham, March-April 1966 (no catalogue traced)

Survey ’66: Figurative Painters, Hampstead Art Centre, London, April-May 1966 (79, reproduced)
Paintings and Drawings by Josef Herman from the Collection of Dr Henry Roland, Reading Museum and Art Gallery, September-October 1967 (2)
African and New Guinea Sculpture from the Josef Herman Collection; Paintings and Drawings by Josef Herman, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, July-August 1969 (2)
Josef Herman, Gardner Centre Gallery, University of Sussex, Falmer, March-April 1972 (3)
Josef Herman, Chapter, Cardiff, September 1972 (3, reproduced)
A Selection from the Collection of Dr H.M. Roland, Folkestone Arts Centre, March-May 1975 (30, reproduced)

Josef Herman Paintings and Drawings: Retrospective Exhibition, Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum, May-July 1975, Scottish Arts Council Gallery, Edinburgh, July-August, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, August-September (19)

Josef Herman: Drawings and Paintings and Negro Primitive Sculpture from his own Collection, West Surrey College of Art and Design, Farnham, January 1976 (no catalogue traced)
The Roland Collection, Bury St Edmonds Art Gallery, May-June 1976 (no catalogue traced)
The Roland Collection: Works from the Collection of Dr Henry Roland, Camden Arts Centre, London, September-October 1976 (51)
The Roland Collection, Plymouth City Art Gallery, December 1976 - January 1977, University of Exeter, January 1977 (no catalogue traced)
The Roland Collection, Rye Art Gallery, May 1977 (19)
The Roland Collection, Rochdale Art Gallery, July 1978 (19)
Works from the Roland Collection, Arts Council tour 1979, Courtauld Institute Galleries, London, March-May 1979, Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich, May-June, York City Art Gallery, July-August, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, August-September, Central Milton Keynes, September-October, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, October-December 1979 (17, reproduced)
Josef Herman: Retrospective Exhibition, Camden Arts Centre, London, Jan.-March 1980 (35, reproduced)
Fifty Works by Josef Herman from the Roland Collection, University of Surrey, Guildford, May 1980 (3)
The Roland Collection, Ruskin School of Drawings and Fine Art, University of Oxford, October-November 1980 (3)
Twenty-Five Works from the Roland Collection, Playhouse Gallery, Harlow, October-November 1981 (12)
The Immigrant Generations: Jewish Artists in Britain 1900-1945, Jewish Museum, New York, May-August 1983 (53, reproduced p.74)
The Forgotten Fifties, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, March-May 1984, Norwich Castle Museum, May-June, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, July-August, Camden Art Centre, August-September (29b, reproduced p.25, pl.26)
One Man’s Choice: Selected by Dr Henry Roland from his Own Collection and from Other Sources, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, April-May 1985 (39)
Four Artists Explore Coalmining: Jack Crabtree, Nicholas Evans, Valerie Ganz, Josef Herman, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, August-September 1986 (no number, reproduced)
“Down to Earth”: Paintings and Drawings by Josef Herman, Elizabethan Exhibition Gallery, Wakefield, July-Aug. 1988 (19)

Wyndham Lewis, ‘Round the London Galleries, Listener, vol.42, no.1082, 20 October 1949, p.686
Scotsman, 13 June 1952
Pierre Rouve, in Art News and Review, 3 March 1956, p.4
Robert Melville, in New Statesman and Nation, 6 May 1966
Henry Roland, Beyond the Façade, London 1991
Robert Heller, Josef Herman: The Work is the Life, exhibition catalogue, Flowers East, London 1998, p.51, reproduced p.63 (col.)

Robert Vrinat, ‘Josef Herman: Peintre du Peuple de la Mine’, L’Age Nouveau, Paris, August 1949
Basil Taylor, ‘Idealism and Realism in the London Galleries’, Harpers Bazaar, London, June 1952, p.50
Michael Middleton, in Konstrevy, Stockholm, Haefte 3, 1956, p.117
Julian Gallego, ‘Revista de arte’, Goya, no.21, November 1957, p.172
Georges Boudaille in Les Lettres Francaises, Paris, 7 November 1957
Jesus Pardo, ‘Ai Habla con Josef Herman’, Indice de artes y letras, Madrid, vol.12, no.120, December 1958, p.19
J. Wood Palmer, ‘Developments in Style: Josef Herman’, London Magazine, vol.2, no.8, Nov. 1962, between pp.44 and 45
Illustrated London News, 7 May 1966
Edwin Mullins, Josef Herman: Paintings and Drawings, London 1967, pl.III, opposite p.16 (colour)
Nini Herman, Josef Herman: A Working Life, London 1996, between pp.130 and 131 (colour)

The dominant theme of Josef Herman’s art over a long period has been, in Basil Taylor’s words, ‘Man as Labourer and the surroundings of his working life’.[1] From the mid-1940s, the daily routine provided the gritty detail for depictions which suggested the greater cycles in which the individual was subsumed: sunrise to twilight, labour to rest, birth to death. In the recurring depiction of Ystradgynlais, the Welsh mining village where he established himself in 1944, these cycles come together in the conjunction of labour and natural patterns. This is clear in Evening, Ystradgynlais. The time of day, which lends the red hue to sky and ground alike, signals the end of the shift in the mine, and the miners return home in an enveloping atmosphere. Herman described the colours of the village in terms close to those in the painting:

Violet roofs at the foot of green hills. Pyramids of black tips surrounded by cloud-like trees the colour of dark bottles.

When the sun appears and gilds the air, the streets, otherwise uniform grey, become copper brown. This happens usually in the evenings, for the days are mostly behind a screen of slow rains, cold and blue like steel dust ...[2]

The painting synthesises a similarly heightened sense of reality. A figure on the bridge over the slate-coloured river – which combines ‘black of coal and yellow of clay’[3] - is separated from the four figures disbursing in the street by the progression of dark telegraph poles. The setting sun and street lights fill this space with a dense orange; originally muted in tone, this was strengthened in the final layer of paint although subtly modulated auras surround the figures. Close inspection reveals their schematic facial features which are blocked-in in a deep red. This echoes other points of red across the composition (in the right-hand doorway, the building at the end of the road, and the roadway of the bridge) which establish a sequence across the surface in counterpoint to the plunging spaces of the road and the river with its flanking walls. These deep recesses are separated by the telegraph poles which, together with the rough forms of the cottages, also define the realm of the village from the unformed zone of nature, which is turbulent and amorphous with its ‘cloud-like trees’. The countryside is subdued and made mysterious by the laying of green over red to create a rich darkness. Such an absorbing sense of the natural surroundings is found in other contemporary paintings, such as Village Street in Wales 1949 (Anthony Rolland collection).[4] It may be seen to take up some of the resonances of the enveloping and archaic landscapes of artists such as Graham Sutherland and John Piper, whose work was associated with the climate of neo-Romaniticism.

Herman’s output at Ystradgynlais had initially been dominated by pastels, of which Pregnant Woman and Friend 1946 (T03193) is an example. In that year he resumed oil painting and rekindled his pre-war admiration for the Flemish Expressionists, such as Constant Permeke, and for the French artists Marcel Gromaire and Georges Rouault, artists who were united by a concern with reality but without recourse to pedantic realism. In retrospect he identified them as his ‘family tree’ adding: ‘I had always believed that only mastery in paint gives significance to freedom and originality.’[5] His pictorial language was close to Expressionism in the heightened colour and emotional modification of form, but it is significant that his application of paint was more measured. In Evening, Ystradgynlais there is little use of impasto, and in some areas (such as the curve of the foreground wall) the canvas remains exposed. In 1980, Herman recalled his technique of those years as consisting of ‘painting with tempera and glazing in oils’,[6] and this careful build-up of layers appears to have been used on Evening, Ystradgynlais. As a procedure it had connections with his equally subtle accumulation of media and colours in his pastels (where watercolour underlay pastel), and the result was a similar enrichment of the sensual depth of colour. Recalling the ‘monochromatic palette’ of those years (which he associated with Rembrandt), he explained its components and effect as ‘a lot of earthy colours: ochres, umbers, blacks and reds ... The luminosity I was after was one with the glows of twilight which I experience with great intensity’.[7]

The resumption of painting in 1946 was facilitated, two years later, by Herman’s purchase of what he called a ‘derelict pop factory’[8] (where fizzy drinks had been made). Evening, Ystradgynlais may have been made there, and included a view of the Pen-y-bont Inn in which the painter and his wife had lodged up to that point. This appears to be the gabbled building on the right (the most clearly defined building in the composition), which is more prominently positioned in a very similar view of the following year, Pen-y-bont Inn, Ystradgynlais 1949 (Boundary Gallery, London).[9] The new studio was a sign of establishment in the village and it confirmed the painter’s public identification with the community. This had been launched with his radio broadcast, ‘A Welsh Mining Village’ (also published in Welsh Review, June 1946), a contemporary exhibition in London[10] and, more significantly, an exhibition touring through Wales in 1948.[11] Such a position was not unique to Herman, as other émigré artists - such a Heinz Koppel who was active in encouraging local artists in the Rhondda – had settled in the Welsh valleys and fixed upon the social impact of its industrial infrastructure as their subject matter.

In his introduction to the 1948 exhibition catalogue, David Bell of the Welsh Arts Council, described Herman as feeling that he had ‘lost his direction as an artist’ during the war. Wales was to be the site of restitution: ‘It was not simply new subject matter for his pictures which he was looking for, but a new experience of humanity from which he could remake the language of his art.’[12] In his concentration on the intricacy and inter-dependency of the village this humanity was made manifest. At the same time, as Bell’s comment implies, the painter remade his experience of the place in a way which he has recently compared to Paul Gauguin’s images of Tahiti in that they are not literal but infuse subsequent perceptions.[13] Even sympathetic critics could see Herman’s sense of humanity as revealing of the oppression of labour. Wyndham Lewis encouraged his readers to see the artist’s exhibition of the following year,[14] but remarked of the tonality of the paintings: ‘It is always possible to discern, however, a miner or two in slow motion – painfully slow owing to the opaque medium in which they live: either entombed in the black earth, or (as in Evening at Ystradgynlais) relaxing in the hideous black-red glow of the furnace-effects produced by the setting sun.’[15] For Lewis, pictorial density and real life were one. Not long after leaving Wales, Herman, for his part, explained that his purpose was ‘to reconcile the feeling of the every-day with its wider epic ideas ... to produce an image at once intimate and communal in spirit.’ To this he added: ‘if I try to compress the aesthetic range to bare expressive characteristics it is because I put experience (cultivated and prolonged) above pure perception.’[16] It is this synthetic approach, which allowed Herman to reconcile his first remembered impressions of the village with his daily experience and use them to infuse his painting.

There are, nevertheless, topographical roots to Herman’s repeated depictions of the village. This is confirmed by comparison with other paintings. View from Ystradgynlais Bridge 1948 (Boundary Gallery)[17] seems to penetrate beyond the bridge in the Tate painting towards the tree that overhangs the road, while Eventide in Ystradgynlais (Leicester City Art Gallery)[18] shows the opposite view with the telegraph pole-lined wall along the street. A direct comparison can be made between Evening, Ystradgynlais and Pen-y-bont Inn, Ystradgynlais. They essentially show the same view and demonstrate how particular details were open to modification during the process of resolving the composition; in Pen-y-bont Inn, Ystradgynlais there is no step in the river wall, the street is narrower and there are only two telegraph poles. These variations indicate how the paintings were composed in the studio from sketches and from memory rather than directly before the motif. It is with intimate knowledge of these careful procedures that one of Herman’s trio of dealers, Henry Roland, bought Evening, Ystradgynlais in February 1949, soon after its completion.[19] He considered it one of the painter’s finest and ensured its donation to the Tate Gallery in 1992.

Matthew Gale
November 1998

[1] Basil Taylor, Josef Herman: Drawings, Jonathon Cape, London 1956, p.5

[2] ‘A Welsh Mining Village’, Welsh Review, June 1946, republished in Josef Herman, Related Twilights: Notes from an Artist’s Diary, London 1975, p.100
[3] Ibid., p.101
[4] Reproduced Josef Herman Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Boundary Gallery, London 1998, p.25, no.8 (colour)
[5] Herman 1975, p.94

[6] Juliet Steyn, ‘Josef Herman: Interview’, Aspects: A Journal of Contemporary Art (UK), no.13, winter

1980-1, [p.4]

[7] Ibid.
[8] Herman 1975, p.94
[9] Reproduced in Josef Herman Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Boundary Gallery, London 1998, p.27, no.10 (colour)

[10] ‘Welsh Miners’: Pastels and Drawings by Josef Herman; Oil Paintings by William Ratcliffe, Roland, Browse and Delbanco, London, September 1946

[11] Miners at Ystradgynlais: Paintings, Pastels and Drawings by Josef Herman, Arts Council tour April-December 1948, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, Miners’ Welfare Centre, Glyn Neath, Educational Settlement, Pontypridd, Cyfarthfa Castle, Merthyr Tydfil, Bangor, Maesyrhaf Educational Settlement, Trealaw, Rhondda, Brynmawr Arts Club, University College, Aberystwyth, Coleg Llandrindod, Llandrindod Wells, Educational Settlement, Pontypool
[12] D[avid] B[ell], ‘Foreword’ in Miners at Ystradgynlais: Paintings, Pastels and Drawings by Josef Herman, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council tour of Wales, 1948 [p.4]
[13] Josef Herman, in conversation with the author, 30 September 1998

[14] ‘Pictures of Mining Life’ by Josef Herman, Geffrye Museum, London, October 1949

[15] Wyndham Lewis, ‘Round the London Galleries, Listener, vol.42, no.1082, 20 October 1949, p.686

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

[17] Reproduced in Josef Herman Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Boundary Gallery, London 1998, p.23, no.5 (colour)

[18] Reproduced in Josef Herman, Paintings and Drawings 1940-1956, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1956, between pp.16 & 17, pl.XIV

[19] Notes from the Roland Collection, Tate Gallery acquisition file

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