Josef Herman (January 1911 – 19 February 2000)

Josef Herman by Jorge Lewinski


In 1938, at the age of 27, Josef Herman left Poland for Brussels to escape anti-Semitism. He was introduced to many of the prominent artists then working in the city. After the beginning of World War II and the German invasion of Belgium, he escaped to France and then to Great Britain. Herman studied working people as the subjects of his art; including grape pickers, fishermen and, most notably, coal miners. The miners became of particular interest for Herman during the eleven years that he lived in Ystradgynlais, a mining community in South Wales. Living there from 1944, Herman became part of the community where he was fondly nicknamed “Joe Bach”. In 1955 he moved to Suffolk with his partner, Nini Ettlinger, whom he married in 1961. The tragic death of their young daughter prompted them to move away and from 1972 Herman lived in the same house in West London where he died in February 2000. In 1981 Herman was awarded an OBE for services to British Art and was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in 1990.


The Song of the Migrant Bird was Herman’s last major work, embodying his philosophy of life. He took over a year to work through the images in 1999 with Stanley Jones, Studio Director, working with him on the project.