Josef Herman

From the 1940s onwards the Polish-born Jewish painter Josef Herman (1911-2000) was a significant figure in British art. His path here, however, was a helter-skelter one. He fled his native Warsaw both to escape the authorities (who disapproved of his left-wing activities) and outrun rising anti-Semitism. For six years he crossed Europe, looking over his shoulder at the approaching Nazis and all the while forming a style to match his political views.

Joseph Herman: Warsaw, Brussels, Glasgow, London 1938-44 is a pictorial recreation of his wanderings staged by the Ben Uri Gallery, the estimable institution in north London that has done so much to foster an interest in Jewish artists. The exhibition contains a mixture of personal and public work and reveals the painter at his most colourful and Expressionistic (see, for example, the Otto Dix-like The Yellow) before he settled for a more sombre palette and painting the monolithic working man. Also included is work by some of the artists who influenced Herman along the way, including the Scottish Colourist J.D. Fergusson, Jacob Epstein and David Bomberg. It is a show that reveals not the painter he would naturally have become but the one history forced him into being.

All images are taken from the exhibition at the Ben Uri Gallery, St John’s Wood, London, which runs until January 15, 2012

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