Painter and draughtsman Josef Herman was born into a working-class Jewish family in Warsaw, Poland in 1911. He studied at Warsaw School of Art and Decoration (1930-31), and first exhibited in his native city in 1932. After experiencing rising anti-Semitism, he left Poland for Brussels in 1938, never to see his family again. He arrived in Glasgow in 1940, where he was reunited with fellow Polish artist Jankel Adler, whom he had known briefly in Warsaw; together they contributed to a vital resurgence of the Scottish arts scene during this period. Herman’s Glasgow work nostalgically evoked his lost Warsaw, drawing strongly on his eastern European Jewish heritage and themes. In 2011 Ben Uri mounted the largest exhibition to date of Herman’s work from this rare period, although the painting Refugees — thought lost for more than 60 years — only came to light in 2014.
In 1943 Herman moved to London, where he exhibited with L S Lowry at the Lefevre galleries before resettling the following year in the Welsh mining village of Ystradgynlais in 1944, where he remained until 1955, giving rise to his best-known body of work, focusing on the Welsh miners and their community. Herman's work was included in the South Bank Festival of Britain Exhibition in 1951, and he exhibited widely including with the émigré art dealers Roland, Browse & Delbanco (1946, 1948, 1952, then regularly until 1975), in London: with Ben Uri (including alongside Martin Bloch in 1949), at the Geffrye Museum (with Henry Moore, 1954), the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1956), the Camden Arts Centre (1980), National Museum of Wales, Cardiff (1989), Abbot Hall, Kendal (2005), and frequently with Flowers and Flowers East Galleries. His work is represented in many collections including London (Tate, V&A), Wales (National Museum), Scotland (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art); as well as in Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand and South Africa. Josef Herman died in London in 2000.