The South African years: part 3
First Trip Abroad
For Herman Wald the establishment of the Jewish State signified the deliverance and redemption of his people. So his first destination was Israel. There he met another of his brothers, Ernest, who too had become a Rabbi. Herman Wald’s boyhood dream which resulted in his well-remembered bust of Theodore Herzl was rekindled. In his enthusiasm he produced a relief of The Messiah leading the Jews of the world to the Promised Land.
THE MESSIAH. 1955
(Also entitled THE INGATHERING OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE)
Clay. 101 x 51 x 5 cm
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 162]
(See Part II, fig. 23)
However, he did not think of living in Israel, despite the fact that he felt so much at home there.
He spent six weeks in the country and then sailed to Rome where he found a studio on the Piazza Bologna in which he worked under the inspiration of past and contemporary Italian masters. One of his most profound encounters was with Michelangelo’s Moses in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli.
“I was wondering who was the greater sculptor of the two – Moses who carved the Ten Commandments or Michelangelo who carved Moses”.[i]
After seven weeks in Italy he flew to London for a few days to draw inspiration from the latest works of British sculpture. Jacob Epstein had meanwhile completed the controversial “Adam”, 1939, (Harewood House, Yorkshire) which was hewn from a single block of alabaster and the double figure of “Jacob and the Angel”, 1941 (London, Tate Gallery). These sculptures may have inspired Wald to create a series of Biblical works and to distinguish himself as a Jewish sculptor.
From London he went to Paris where he remained for ten days to absorb the most recent artistic trends. Wald had been isolated from the centres of modern art for fifteen years, whilst the cataclysmic events of the Second World War had swept over Europe and had brought the tragic death of many Jewish artists of the École Juive.
After Paris he boarded “The Queen Mary” at Cherbourg and was bound for the U.S.A. This was to be the climax of his trip. He regarded the United States as the “push-button of civilization”[ii], where he intended to make his mark. He arrived in New York in June, the hottest time of the year, his exhibition scheduled for the 7th September at the New Gallery in West 44th Street. His sculptures were sent directly from South Africa[iii]. The logistics were handled by a travel agent who had a high regard for his brother, Rabbi Marcus, and who undertook to take care of the consignments. In addition to works completed during his travels[iv], Herman Wald managed to create some pieces in New York, just prior to the exhibition. He rented a studio on the 10th floor of the Carnegie Hall Building, which also served as his accommodation. His creative momentum was the result of his longing for Vera. It inspired in him a further reflection on the love theme and he created the first in a series of sculptures of Adam and Eve (See Part II, Fig 24). These would culminate in the love-motifs of his last period, with which he would attain the zenith of his career. (See Part II, Fig. 35).
His self-doubt was apparent in his letters to Vera: “I am really grateful to you that you don’t mind whether I shall or shan’t be a success” [v]. Her delicate support gave him the incentive “to make a success of it.” [vi] He wrote that he was filled with hope, but suffered from insecurity. Then again he bravely conjured up his optimism: “now I am getting determined to make it, just to spite my own scepticism and the doubts of others.”[vii] In his letters he expresses his worries about the financial stress that Vera had to endure.
The exhibition in New York, which comprised a collection of thirty works, proved to be a success and the sale of at least nine sculptures is recorded.[viii] It was positively reviewed in the New York press including The Forward. The critic of the New York Times, Steward Preston, whose judgement was greatly valued within the art world, made constructive comments. To these he added, what he thought, was a somewhat critical remark, which in hindsight turned out to be positive. He compared Herman Wald with Jacob Epstein:
“With his ridges and bosses and frenzied modelling and his subjugation of the plastic to the literary, Herman Wald resembles Jacob Epstein."[ix]
Steward Preston made special mention of the sculpture “The Sacrifice of Isaac” and described it as “genuinely original and successful”[x]. This gave Wald further impetus to distinguish himself as a specifically Jewish artist in his future work. Although the reception of his work to the contemporary reader seems somewhat lukewarm, Herman Wald felt that he was taken seriously in New York and this meant everything to him. This was also expressed by the art historian Dora Sowden: “It is only by measuring our standards against those of the great world outside that we can hope to keep level and to achieve something worth having. Herman Wald’s exhibition is, therefore, in a sense our exhibition and we must congratulate him not only for himself, but also on our own behalf as South Africans.”[xi]
The exhibition was also received with enthusiasm by the Amerikai Maguyar Nepszava, (The American People’s Hungarian Newspaper) in which the former principal of his old Hungarian school in Cluj, Mr Erdely proudly wrote:
“… 30 years have gone by since I last saw him, and the past student accounts to his principal, how he first went to Budapest; where he was the outstanding student of the National Academy of Art in Adreske road. He was the favourite of Kish Valudi Strobel Zsigmond (sic.) [xii]
After this artistic achievement Herman Wald returned to South Africa and was happily reunited with his family. Vera meanwhile had been dependent on the generosity of friends. Spurred on by his success, Wald worked on a new collection which he exhibited in his Beaux Arts Gallery[xiii].
At the time he decided to make ceramic copies of his small-scale sculptures. He built a kiln in his studio and trained his assistants in the craft of casting and glazing. Dora Sowden wrote about them:
“these glazed sculptures go beyond decorative art to serious artistic expression. So complete is Herman Wald’s mastery of this technique, that he can convey through it his Jewish ideas and his African observation as well as the sheer beauty of line and colour which needs no title to give it worth and meaning.” [xiv]
However, the work load of running a kiln in his studio became too much for him and in 1954 he outsourced his ceramic work to the Vaal Potteries in Meyerton, near Vereeniging. Examples of these works are “Meditation” and Tête à Tête.
Clay. 29 x 18 x 22 cm
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 149]
(See Part II, fig. 20)
TÊTE À TÊTE. 1968
Ceramic. 21 x 51 x 22 cm
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 300]
(See Part II, fig. 48)
By now Herman Wald could look back on a life of achievement, which had come with hardship and times of great financial stress. Having settled in South Africa, then joining the army, the impact of the Holocaust on his deepest psyche, Wald, like his European contemporaries, had struggled to find his feet in the City of Gold within its materialistic culture in which the Stock Exchange reigned supreme. The spirit of his European heritage could survive only with difficulty. And in the climate of racial segregation he remained an outsider to the African heritage.
Johannesburg, Parktown North
In 1954 Herman Wald purchased a house in an upmarket suburb in Johannesburg[xv] and built a studio on its premises. He held a farewell exhibition in his Beaux Arts Gallery in Pritchard Street[xvi] in which he exhibited 39 sculptures of which, disappointingly, he sold only three.[xvii]
During this period his sculptural work took on a frenetic flavour, for example “The Schizophrenics” or “The Rat Race”.
THE SCHIZOPHRENICS. 1962
Clay. 53 x 24 x 21 cm
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 263]
(See Part II, fig. 29)
THE RAT RACE. 1965
Clay. 29cm x 31 x 31 cm
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 24]]
(See Part II, fig. 245)
But ultimately the love motif would prevail.
THE LOVERS I. 1963
Clay. 89 x 14 x 14 cm
Photo: www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 224]
(See Part II, fig. 31)
THE EMBRACE 1. 1965
Bronze. 24 x 61 x 26 cm
Photo: Cat: www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 85]
(See Part II, fig. 34)
EMBRACE 3. 1969 Bronze. 69 x 21 x 21 cm
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 83]
(See Part II, fig 53)
His works began to reach into the sphere of the abstract, on the threshold between mind and spirit.
THE MUSE. 1968
Clay. 17 x 74 x 17cm
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 171]
(See Part II, fig. 49)
In Johannesburg Herman Wald had a small circle of friends and supporters, among them Alec Gorshel of whom he created a life sized portrait bust captured with a deep psychological insight.
Alec Gorschel. 1961
Clay. [measurements unknown]
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 27]
When Gorshel was the mayor of Johannesburg from 1959 to 1960, he had an ideal of beautifying the city of gold, materialism and mine dumps. He persuaded Harry Oppenheimer to commission Wald to create a fountain.[i] The result is spectacular. The peace-loving artist chose the gentle impala over the popular predators. Initially installed on the corner
[i] Letter from Vera Wald to Harry Oppenheimer, dated 10.4.1989, op cit. See Resources.
The Impala Fountain. 1960
Bronze. 250 x 500 x 120 cm
Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 118]
of President and Joubert Street, the Impala Fountain depicts eighteen leaping gazelles, forming an arch over a water cascade. Eighteen is the Hebrew number for “Chai”, which means life. It was a masterpiece, both from the aesthetic and the technical angle. The antelopes create the impression of each individually leaping into the air full of joy and a vitality emphasized by the water fountain. The connecting points which fasten the deer to each other, are hidden from view. The Impala fountain was so popular that the Polish Cultural Society wanted a replica erected in Warsaw as a monument to the South African air force pilots who had lost their lives in the Battle of Warsaw during World War II[xix]. Harry Oppenheimer approved the plans[xx] but nothing came of the project. Sadly the fountain sculpture was vandalized. It was restored by Michael Wald Herman Wald’s oldest son and erected in front of the Anglo-American Building in Main Street, Johannesburg, in 2002.
In 1956 Herman Wald was commissioned by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies to create the “Monument to the Six Million” who had perished in the Holocaust, at the West Park cemetery in Johannesburg. He created a structure, depicting three pairs of shofars - ram’s horns blown since ancient times during religious ceremonies, especially on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and at the end of Yom Kippur, (day of Atonement). The shofars are held with giant hands emerging from the depths of the earth - from where the Dead are imagined to cry out. Between their arches, Hebrew words wind themselves to the top, spelling out “Lo Tirzach” (“thou shalt not kill”). They are lit by an eternal light.
Memorial to the Six Million. 1959
Bronze. H: 6m
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [work ID 187]
In 1960 Herman Wald obtained a further commission from Harry Oppenheimer for a Miner’s Fountain. It was placed in the Sir Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Garden at the Kimberley Civic Centre in his honour and in memory of all the diggers past and present, who had worked in the five Kimberley mines of Dutoitspan, Bultfontein, De Beers, Kimberley and Wesselton. Herman Wald created five powerful figures of miners, rendered in the style of Constantin Meuniere’s social realism. They hold aloft an early type of diamond sieve over a fountain whose sounds of gushing water emulate the grinding of the stones. The circle formed by the miners symbolizes the unity of labour and its fruits.
For these commissions Herman Wald had to employ extra assistants in his studio. One of them was the sculptor David McGregor. He was delegated to assist with the construction of the Miners’ Fountain in Kimberley. However, he proved to be a great distress to Herman Wald. Wald at the time was working on a proposal for a second fountain of three life-sized figures, depicting miners of Johannesburg. They were to symbolize the contribution of the mining industry to the prosperity of South Africa and to emphasize the camaraderie between black and white mineworkers. To his consternation he found his design, reproduced in The Rand Daily Mail[xxi], attributed to David McGregor. Herman Wald was deeply hurt and angered by this deliberate misattribution.[xxii] His protests came to nothing and the monument was erected at the top of Rissik Street in Braamfontein, and to this day is attributed to David McGregor. According to later correspondence, McGregor allegedly plagiarized yet another design by Herman Wald, this time of a bird fountain, dated 1960, which he intended enter as a proposal for a competition in the newspaper The Star. Wald protested, stating that he had entered it in this competition and that McGregor had submitted the same design. He complained to the Engineering Department of the City Council of Johannesburg [xxiii] who appear to have done nothing about it and the legal issue was never resolved.
The Bible in Sculpture
Inspired by his trip to Israel, London and New York Herman Wald felt that he had found his identity as an artist. He had always remained aware of the presence and reality of the God of his fathers. Now he wished to launch himself into public awareness as a Jewish sculptor. The ensuing exhibition, entitled “The Bible in Sculpture”, which was to be the most significant event of his life as an artist, took place in 1959[xxiv].
It ran parallel with a bible month organized by the Histadrut Ivrit (the Association of Workers in Israel), who had undertaken to sponsor Herman Wald’s seminal exhibition. At the opening of the exhibition, the chairman of the Histadrut, N Rutstein, paid tribute to Herman Wald’s oeuvre, whereupon it was officially opened by Alec Gorshel, then Deputy Mayor of Johannesburg. After this the artist Wald personally introduced his work in a lecture in which he articulated his philosophical reflections:
“I apply these biblical stories to our present day happenings. They do have the undercurrent of timelessness which repeats itself in the history of mankind unchangeably.” [xxv]
Chronologically the exhibition begins with the sculpture Judith and Holofernes,
which he had created as a student in Vienna when he worked in the studio of Anton Hanak. It can be regarded as an expression of a personal catharsis in which he tried to come to terms with his father’s death. Modelled in broad outlines, the sculpture depicts the triumphant features of Judith beneath the severed head of the Assyrian tyrant which she carries on a cloth to prevent her contamination by his blood. Both heads exude a strong sense of power and the features of the predatory despot are frighteningly alive.
Other Biblical sculptures featured “Hagar”
and “David Playing before Saul”,[xxvi] giving expression to the magical power of music.
There were several renditions of Moses, culminating in “Moses and the Amalekite War”, which was completed after the Holocaust. It portrays a very
MOSES IN THE AMALEKITE WAR. 1946
Clay. 70 x 42 x 38 cm
Photo: Cat. [work ID 170]
exhausted Moses, flanked by his assistants Aaron and Hur holding up his arms, as the raging battle between the Israelites and their mortal enemies could only be won when Moses raised his arms.
The figure of “Job” (See part II fig. 11) was rendered in three versions which after the date of this exhibition would culminate in the mystical work of “Job and his Consoling Angels” in which the angels descend in whirling shapes around Job.[xxvii]
One of the most outstanding biblical sculptures, exhibited in New York in 1952 which had received special mention by Steward Preston, the art critic of the New York Times was “The Sacrifice of Isaac".
It was followed by another father-and-son theme of “Isaac Blessing Jacob”.
Isaac blessing Jacob. 1954/55
Photo: cat.: [Work ID 254]
“Solomon’s Judgement” was conceived as a metaphor for the dispute over the establishment of the State of Israel.
Solomon’s Judgement. 1953
Clay. 48 x 53 x 34 cm
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 261]
(See Part II, fig. 16)
Jacob’s Ladder (Also entitled: Jacob’s Dream). 1949
Bronze. 45 x 65 x 17 cm
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 130]
(See Part II, fig 8)
In “Jacob’s Ladder”, Jacob is depicted lying with his head on the stone and the angels ascending and descending in his dream, “very typical of man’s endeavours to try the stratosphere.”[xxviii] The figure “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel”
Bronze. 77 x 29 x 24cm
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 128]
(See Part II, fig. 9)
was a breakthrough into abstraction. The angel plunges down from heaven like a flame and the heads of the two combatants converge into a centrifugal force of their struggle between the human and the divine.
Two figures in this exhibition became paradigms for his later works, the one for his theme of darkness and fear, the other for his love-theme. The first of these is the figure “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden”.
Clay. Measurements unknown
Photo: Cat. www.hermanwald.com [Work ID 83]
(See Part II, fig. 22)
Adam and Eve, expelled from paradise, do not know which way to turn and are forcefully spun around.
The second one is “The Birth of Eve” (See Part II, fig. 24). For Herman Wald the image emphasizes “the biological interdependence between the sexes, no matter how independent we seem to want to be.”[xxix]
The exhibition defined Herman Wald’s stylistic development from his early work to that of the exhibition. It showed that he never submitted himself to the dictate of one style, but he allowed the spiritual content of each sculpture to define its particular form.
The exhibition was well received by the Jewish community. Edgar Bernstein wrote an enthusiastic review about it in the S.A. Jewish Times.[xxx] But sadly, it was only mentioned in passing in the official press.[xxxi]
The reception by the general public, however, to what should have been Herman Wald’s most significant exhibition was unenthusiastic, to say the least. In the fractured South African society at the time these biblical sculptures seemed to have relevance only for the Jewish community. Their archetypal, universal message was not recognized, to the profound disillusionment of Herman Wald.
After this disappointment, he did not exhibit again for eleven years. Selling his sculptures through art dealers, he occupied himself with designs for monuments and fountains in Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, East London and even in Bulawayo. Here the commission of two elephant tusks forming an arch to the town’s entrance were discussed in 1963, as well as decorations for the city’s theatre, but nothing came of these proposals. He offered designs to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem,[xxxii] also without success. In 1970 he received a commission by the South African Permanent Building Society for a sculpture which he had proposed to them. But it was subsequently withdrawn, as the committee members did not like his design.[xxxiii]
Second trip to the USA, Europe and Israel
After these discouraging experiences Herman Wald wanted to leave South Africa and to settle in New York with his family.[xxxiv] He also yearned to live close to his sister Yolanda whose life was complicated by difficulties with her American residence permit. Herman Wald flew to New York in November 1965 to help her, using his contacts in New York. He stayed with his cousin Hershi Wald in Queens and with his help he investigated professional possibilities for himself.[xxxv] Hershi was in touch with George T Delacorte, the owner of the Delacorte Publishing Company who was officially in charge of the sculptural embellishment of New York. Delacorte showed interest in Wald’s work and wrote a positive evaluation:
“I have seen pictures and sketches of Mr Wald’s sculpture which I consider first-rate. I favour his immigration to the United States and feel that a man with his talent would be an asset to the American art community.”[xxxvi]
Wald composed designs for monuments and fountains which Hershi submitted to Delacorte. One of them was a proposal for a “Monument of Peace Through Understanding” which would feature the four great religious leaders (Buddha, Moses, Jesus and the Prophet Mohamed), leading humanity to better mutual understanding.
Another design was to symbolize the distribution of electricity all over the world. He designed a globe with two impressions of lightning, rendered in bronze, which represented the flash of electric power. They would be fitted with water slots which would supply a waterfall from a step-like formation, flowing into a pool. But nothing came of these proposals, nor of his plans to settle in New York.
Subsequently he returned to London,[xxxvii] Rome and Paris and from there to Israel[v]. This brief plunge into his artistic sources restored his creative energies. He returned to South Africa and during the five years still left to him, his work would transcend into ever greater spirituality.
[i] Herman Wald. Report on World Tour 1952. (HW Doc 4852). Personal documents in the collection of Louis Wald, op. cit.
[ii] Herman Wald (HW Doc 0215). Collection of Louis Wald. ibid.
[iii] “Joseph”, “Idyll”, “Before the Dance”, “Africa 2”, “Zulu Beauty”, “Mother and Child”, “Tashlich”, “Spiritual Singers”, “Void”, “Masks”, “Harmonium Player”, “Lion Killer”, “Negro Frenzy Dancer”, “Checker Players”, “Study”, “Modern Child”, portrait bust of “Yehudi Menuhin”, and “The Connoisseur”. Ibid.
[iv] Example: . “Adam and Eve I ”.
[v] Personal documents in the collection of Louis Wald, op.cit.
[viii] List of exhibitions and sales, op.cit..
[ix] New York Times. 14 September 1952.
[x] Ibid. undated newspaper cutting.
[xi] Jewish Affairs 7 (11), 1952:47.
[xii] Amerikai Magyar Neopszava, comp. note 32.
[xiii] On the 3rd March, 1954.
[xiv] Sowden, Dora. Herman Wald. Sculptor. Johannesburg. Jewish Affairs April 1954, p. 47.
[xv] at 52-6th Avenue, Parktown North.
[xvi] On the 22nd March.
[xvii] List of sculptures featured and sold during exhibitions, drawn up by Herman Wald, op.cit.
[xviii] Letter from Vera Wald to Harry Oppenheimer, dated 10.4.1989, op cit. See Resources.
[xix] Letter by Herman Wald to Mrs Yannik, chairperson of the Polish Cultural Society dated 22.4.1963. Also recorded in the South African Digest 7.3.1963. Ibid.
[xx] Herman Wald. Mentioned in a Memorandum to the City Council of Johannesburg Engineering Dept. dated 19 April 1963 in which he lodges the complaint against Dave McGregor for copying works from his studio, and submitting them under his name. Ibid.
[xxi] 17 April 1963.
[xxii] Interview with Chana Jacobson.24 July 2011, op.cit.
[xxiii] Memorandum dated 19 April 1963, in the collection of Louis Wald, op.cit.
[xxiv] It took place in Queens Hall, De Villiers Street, Johannesburg.
[xxv] Lecture entitled “The Bible in Sculpture”, 1959 which he presented on the occasion of the exhibition, 1959.
[xxvi] Cat. [Work (ID 69]
[xxvii] Cat. [Work ID 132]
[xxviii] Herman Wald. “The Bible in Sculpture”, op.cit.
[xxx] Edgar Bernstein. A sculptor interprets the Bible. S.A. Jewish Times, 17. 4. 1959.
[xxxi] Die Transvaler, 25. 3. 959; The Star, 7. 4. 1959 and 18. 4. 1959.
[xxxii] Letter by Herman Wald to the Director of Yad Vashem, 28. 12. 1965, Louis Wald, op cit.
[xxxiii] Letter to Herman Wald from the S.A. Permanent Building Society dated 4. 2. 1979. Ibid. See Resources.
[xxxiv] Letter of recommendation of Herman Wald’s public sculptures by Michael Ostrowiak, dated 2 January 1966. Ibid.
[xxxv] Letter to Vera from New York, dated 29 November 1965. Ibid.
[xxxvi] George T Delacorte. Letter of recommendation of Herman Wald, 20.12.1965 on a letterhead: “Make new York beautiful Inc.” Ibid.
[xxxvii] Telegram of arrival dated 6.12.1965. Ibid.
[xxxviii] On the 17.12. 1965.