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© estate of Josef Herman. All rights reserved, DACS 2022. Photo credit: Ben Uri Collection

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'Refugees' is a rare, important early painting, thought lost for over 60 years. Herman destroyed most of the works from this period in 1948, considering it too influenced by Chagall. Blue was the dominant colour of these years, used as a nostalgic evocation of a lost Warsaw. Like much of Herman’s Glasgow work, this painting draws on his eastern European Jewish heritage. However, the refugees also represent the wider displacement of peoples uprooted and forced into exile by the Second World War's upheavals. The cat symbolizes the family’s unknown fate with a mouse dangling from its jaw. The figures' treatment reflects Herman’s admiration for Käthe Kollwitz, while the fearful child with her hand in her mouth is reminiscent of Goya.

Ben Uri Gallery & Museum





gouache on paper


H 47 x W 39.5 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

purchased with the assistance of the ACE/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund and Art Fund through Conor Macklin of the Grosvenor Gallery, 2014

Work type

Drawing & watercolour

Signature/marks description

Signed and titled on reverse of backing board: 'Refugees by Josef Herman'

Inscription description

Signed and titled on reverse of backing board: 'Refugees by Josef Herman'


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Ben Uri Gallery & Museum

108a Boundary Road, St John's Wood, London, Greater London NW8 0RH England

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