Josef Herman

Study for ‘In the Mountains’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Josef Herman 1911–2000
Graphite and gouache on paper
Support: 559 × 765 mm
Presented by Curwen Studio 1976

Catalogue entry

Josef Herman 1911-2000

Study for ‘In the Mountains’ 1965


Gouache and pencil on cartridge paper 563 x 764 (22 x 30 1/8)

Inscribed in pencil ‘Done’ bottom left

Presented by the Curwen Studio, London 1976

Commissioned from the artist by Marlborough Fine Art, London and the Curwen Studio, London 1965

Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1976-8, London 1979, pp.90-1, reproduced p.90

For Josef Herman sketching has been a daily activity. From at least the mid-1940s, sketches made outside the studio were combined and re-composed into more developed studies which, in turn, became the basis for compositional drawings or paintings. Shortly after Study for ‘In the Mountains’ was acquired by the Tate Gallery, the artist explained that it was made in preparation for one of three lithographs commissioned from him by Marlborough Fine Art in 1965; the lithograph was In the Mountains (Tate Gallery P06279). Study for ‘Dusk’ (T02096) served a similar purpose,[1] while the third print was Figure against Dark Sky (P06278). The commission was part of a larger process whereby artists were encouraged in the 1960s to make their work available in more economic form and to a wider audience through various print media. The Curwen Studio was launched by Robert Erskine of the St George’s Gallery and the Curwen Press with this purpose in 1958,[2] and in 1960-2 Herman began to make three-colour lithographs such as Mother and Child, 1961-2 (P06276) and Two Miners, 1960-2 (P06273).[3]

By 1965, Herman was familiar with the procedures. The handling of the dense dry surface achievable in the gouache of Study for ‘In the Mountains’ may be seen to anticipate qualities of flatness and broken colour achievable through lithography. Furthermore, the limitation of colour anticipates the three-colour print process. This having been said, the study is richer in colouring: the cart and carter are worked in an earthy red-brown which is also found in the landscape, while the sky is a rich blue with pink worked generously along the profile of the hills. By contrast, the print has a black landscape (laid over blue) and while the brown of the cart is retained, the pink is dispensed with. The composition was resolved in the study on the size of the final print, and that a certain accuracy was foreseen is confirmed in the pencil crosses in the centre of each side which serve as guide-marks. However, comparison with In the Mountains itself shows that, like the colouring, further alterations took place in securing the details of the final edition. The level of these changes – subtle shifts of emphasis and turns of line – shows how the image was re-drawn on the stone or zinc plate rather than simply transferred from the study.

The study served as an intermediary between the print and the original sketches made in Andalusia, where Herman had holidayed almost annually since 1948. The theme of agricultural workers, with their life reliant upon the land, is close to Herman’s views and experience of the mining community in Wales. In both, manual labour is elevated and generalised as a heroic struggle with natural elements. The struggle may be set in warmer climes in his Spanish works, but the theme is the one that runs through his output. In the context of the perceived backwardness of Spanish peasantry under the Franco regime in the post-war years, Herman’s drawings may be seen as atavistic especially in the face of the growing wave of tourism to the Mediterranean resorts. The choice of subject may also be seen as implicitly political, in addressing the immemorial connection with the land, even if the artist specified his personal concerns over dogmatic ideology, stating in 1967: ‘Both social reality and nature interest me for the emotions and moods they awake, and for the ideas they make the mind dream up.’[4] The persistence of this viewpoint and, more particularly, the success of this composition are confirmed by its close reprise in a later lithograph of perhaps half the size, The First Star, 1975 (P06281).

Matthew Gale
December 1998

[1] Josef Herman, conversation 16 February 1977, Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1976-8, London 1979, p.90

[2] Pat Gilmour, Artists at Curwen: A Celebration of the Gift of Artists’ Prints from the Curwen Studio, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1977, p.95
[3] Reproduced in Lithographs from the Curwen Studio, exhibition catalogue, London 1962, nos.4-5 (colour)
[4] Edwin Mullins, Josef Herman: Paintings and Drawings, London 1967, p.8

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