The years of artistic training in Europe
Studies at the Academy of Fine Art in Budapest
In 1926 Herman Wald enrolled at the Academy of Fine Art in Budapest with the financial support of a state bursary.[i] However, as the study fees were extremely high,[ii] the bursary did not cover all his expenses, and he supplemented his income by singing in the choir of the Great Synagogue in Budapest and also in the City Opera.
At the art academy he covered the compulsory courses offered by established art institutions.[iii] His main subject, sculpture, was taught by Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl (1884-1974). Strobl’s style, which evolved out of the arts and crafts movement, was influenced by Adolf von Hildebrand (1847-1921) and Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929). Both typified the transitional phase between 19th century classicism and early 20th century formalism. Strobl at the time was best known for his elegant genre statuettes. During the course of travels and studies on the European continent, Strobl had been influenced by the Belgian social realist Constantin Meunier (1831-1905). This style would later stand Kisfaludi Strobl in good stead under communist leadership where it concurred with the demands for commissions for vast socialist realist monuments. Herman Wald’s rendering of The Diamond Diggers in Kimberley echo Meunier’s social realism transmitted to him by his mentor.
Kisfaludi Strobl was reported to have felt a personal affection for Herman Wald.[iv] He still held the position as Professor of sculpture when the Hungarian-born South African sculptor Zoltan Borbereki (1907-1992) enrolled for his studies at this institution in 1929, two years after Herman Wald had left. Borbereki continued his studies there until 1933 when he became assistant Professor and married the painter and mosaic artist Elizabeth Seböck. They emigrated to South Africa in 1950. Although the two sculptors do not seem to have met, a stylistic affinity between Wald and Borbereki can be traced back to their first mentor.
Towards the end of Herman Wald’s second semester in Budapest a tragedy occurred in the Wald family, which was never recorded in the historiography of Cluj and thus cannot be definitely verified. However, a rumour about this event has been passed from generation to generation within the Wald family.
The ascertainable facts of this episode are that on the 14th December 1927 a pogrom (an act of state sanctioned violence aimed at the Jewish population), was instigated by Romanian students under the banner of the “Iron Guard”, a far-right movement and political party in Romania. The Jewish communities in the Transylvanian cities of Brasov, Oradea and Cluj were savagely attacked. Young girls were raped and murdered. Jewish shops were pillaged. Six synagogues were invaded and despoiled, religious books burned and Torah scrolls desecrated. This barbaric pogrom, which caused intense misery among the Jews of Romania, ended on the 31st December 1927. Five days later, on the 5th January, 1928, the death of Rabbi Jacob Meir Wald was recorded in the deceased register of the Hebrew congregation of Cluj. According to oral transmission, Rabbi Jacob Meir Wald, trying to save a Torah scroll from the mob, was attacked and wounded. The family was convinced that he had succumbed to the wounds inflicted during this attack. Probably this assault was not chronicled in the official history of the Jews of Cluj for fear of reprisal. He was laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery where his grave is preserved to the present day.
Herman Wald never spoke about this dreadful event,[v] nor of the pogrom in Cluj which his family must have witnessed. But it may have heightened his sense of danger and prompted his continued wanderings throughout Europe. He completed his studies in Budapest on the 31st January 1927 and then quit the Hungarian capital to depart for Vienna.
Studies in Vienna
With the support of a student grant from the Jewish community of Cluj, Herman Wald went to further his studies in sculpture at the School of Decorative and Applied Art (Kunstgewerbeschule) in Vienna under the prominent sculptor Anton Hanak (1875-1934). This may look straightforward, but it proved exceedingly complicated to navigate the Viennese academic red-tape, which even with the passage of time is difficult to unravel. Initially not registering at the Kunstgewerbeschule, Wald commenced his apprenticeship in 1927 in the studio of Hanak, who at the time was the professor of an advanced master class[vi]. This means that Wald completed his preliminary training[vii] without having registered officially.[viii] Only in October 1928 did he register at the Kunstgewerbeschule. He continued to study sculpture under Prof Eugen Gustav Steinhof. Unofficially, but unknown to the administration of the Kunstgewerbeschule, he continued training under Anton Hanak.[ix] Wald was probably barred from registering officially with him since he was not yet a master student.
Thus he skipped Steinhof’s classes and this did not seem to sit well with the good Professor. For some unknown reason Herman Wald then left the Kunstgewerbeschule altogether in mid-April 1929 after completing only one semester. Steinhof noted Herman Wald’s lack of attendance on his registration form and did not grant him any recognition for his period of study. What might have happened here was summed up by the present director of archives of the Kunstgewerbeschule , Ferdinand Gutschi, who bases his view on his personal knowledge of the institutions of higher learning in Vienna:
“Herman Wald was registered with Prof Steinhof at the Kunstgewerbeschule but did not – for whatever reason – appear there very often! Instead of this he preferred working under Hanak. This is confirmed in his registration certificate a propos his preliminary studies.[x]
It seems that Steinhof’s section was the beginner’s class which a student had to pass in order to progress to a master class. That for Wald, who was categorised as an “extraordinary [“ausserordentlich”] student” was the only way he could be permitted to enrol at all at the Kunstgewerbeschule . Thus as Ferdinand Gutschi surmises, he was officially enrolled with Steinhof but studied unofficially under Hanak, his preferred teacher.
One of his fellow students at the Kunstgewerbeschule was the Israeli sculptor Moshe Ziffer (1902-1989) who studied there for four years, without completing the course. They were reunited in Israel in 1952, where he had meanwhile gained prominence as a sculptor of monuments.
Herman Wald gave the following explanation for not obtaining a degree in Vienna:
“As [I] wished to gain tuition from as many sources as possible [I] studied under different masters for shorter periods thus not qualifying for a degree”.[xi]
Anton Hanak (1875-1934) was one of the most prominent sculptors in Vienna at the time. His style echoed that of Auguste Rodin. He created over-life-sized nudes in marble, bronze, plaster and wood. His versatility regarding material and craftsmanship had a definite impact on Herman Wald’s technique. However, Wald’s chief preference always remained wood, the material with which Hanak commenced his career. Hanak’s figures, although of vast proportion, have the effect of weightlessly floating in space, conveying a feeling of ecstasy. This had a strong impact on the art of Wald. His figures often seem to levitate and thereby reach into a spiritual realm (See fig. 21) .
Anton Hanak was a member of the Vienna Secession, along with Josef Hoffman and Gustav Klimt with whom he exhibited there annually. He carried out major pubic commissions and his oeuvre was regarded as the sculptural equivalent to the paintings of Klimt. His favourite subject was Venus, the goddess of love, a theme that the young Wald with his strictly orthodox upbringing may have experienced as liberating. Hanak is known to have been an inspiring teacher who allowed his pupils to find their own form of artistic expression. During the period in which Herman Wald worked in his studio, Hanak’s expressionist style aimed at capturing the torment of mankind.
Vienna was the city of art and music and the focus of Freudian psycho-analysis, which fascinated Wald. After the collapse of the global stock market in 1929 the capital of the Habsburg empire soon became a hot-bed of antisemitism. Sensitive to this poisonous climate he left Vienna for Berlin in 1930 and remained there until 1933.
Berlin and Totila Albert
By 1930 the cultural thrill of the Weimar Republic began to show signs of fatigue In the Prussian capital of Berlin. Flashes of excitement, such as the opening of the Pergamon Museum or the performances of the Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich alternated with the distressing growth of unemployment. From its previous status of art haven the city began to morph into a sanctum of conservatism. Spiessbürgerlichkeit, petite-bourgeois narrow-mindedness, love of order and obsequiousness to authority gained momentum, together with a fascist state of mind. Rumblings of the coming catastrophe became increasingly palpable. Where would it lead? This feeling of uncertainty was later recalled by Herman Wald in his South African memoir.
“While finding [Berlin’s] national temperature far beyond normal, it was impossible to diagnose whether the flushed complexion was the fever of sickness or the glow of health”.[xii]
He enrolled in the studio of the sculptor Totila Albert.[xiii] His new mentor may have been recommended by a member of the Jewish community, as one of Totila Albert’s closest friends was the prominent cantor and composer of synagogue music, Arno Nadel (1878-1943).
Totila Albert (1892-1967 ) was born in Santiago, Chile, where his eccentric parents had eloped from Germany.[xiv] When Totila, whom they had named after a famous Ostrogoth king, was 11 years old, his mother and father separated. The terrible pain of this experience propelled him to the realms of mysticism through which he could visualise a transcendental union of his parents[xv].
He grew up with his paternal uncles in Berlin under somewhat weird circumstances and studied at the School of Applied Arts (Kunstgewerbeschule) during World War I. As a Chilean citizen he was not recruited to the German army. He completed his apprenticeship and reached his break-through after discovering the work of the two leading German expressionist sculptors Ernst Barlach (1870-1938) and Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881-1919). After what his biographer describes as a “shamanistic experience”[xvi] during which Totila , in a state of ecstasy, perceived a total unity with his creative powers (“I felt my undulating rhythm singing”[xvii]) he created five allegorical female figures which were shaped in the fluid style of Ernst Barlach, entitled: “Women of the Hills” (Hügelfrauen). They symbolise five stages of spiritual fulfilment: “suffering”, “thinking”, “striving”, “creativity” and “perfection”. These figures, which were never cast in bronze, brought Totila Albert immediate recognition in Berlin. But because he had remained a Chilean national he could not be awarded a professorship at the Academy of Arts. As a result of that he had to take in students to his studio in Berlin-Friedenau.
Totila Albert exhibited annually at the Berlin Secession and the Jury-free exhibitions[xviii], thus ranking among the Berlin avant-garde. By 1924 he had gained wide recognition and a monograph on his life and work appeared in a series which covered prominent contemporary artists, published by Julius Bard. Herman Wald obtained a copy of this book which Totila Albert signed with the dedication: “Herman Wald in memory of Totila”[xix]. The influence of Totila Albert on Herman Wald remained dormant for many years. It crystallised in his final period when his love motif culminated in the theme of the Mystical Union.
Totila Albert created fine-lined stone reliefs in the elongated style of Wilhelm Lehmbruck, reminiscent of Greek vase painting. He created sculptures in stone which were pronouncedly erotic, blending expressionist distortions of limbs with the organic contours of the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) style. His most famous sculpture depicted two floating giant bodies, interlocked in a circular form, entitled Das grosse Paar (The great couple), or Ritmo Eterno [xx] (Eternal rhythm). It was created before 1924 and is reproduced in the aforementioned monograph published by Julius Bard. For Totila Albert sexuality expressed a sacred force flowing through two human bodies.
In 1928 Totila’s father passed away in Santiago. He began to write poems of mourning, in which he identified with the cosmos, structuring his words on the music of Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. He felt that the pain of this bereavement gave birth to renewed creativity. [xxi]
Herman Wald joined his studio two years after the death of his father.[xxii] A notion based on Totila Albert’s concept of the artist “giving birth” manifested itself in a sculpture which Wald created eighteen years later, entitled “The birth of Eve”.
THE BIRTH OF EVE. 1958
Also entitled: The Creation of Eve
Bronze. 57 x 59 x 28 cm
Photo: cat. [work I.D. 8]
In 1933 Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. Wald knew that he had to flee the eye of the storm. By now he had completed nine years of artistic training, mainly on the periphery of official art institutions. His next destination was Paris, the leading city of the arts.
The Paris Intermezzo
When he reached Paris at the beginning of 1933[xxiii] the impact of the cultural metropole was overwhelming. Herman Wald dreamt of establishing a studio there but this did not materialize, as the storm clouds followed him from Nazi Germany. He managed to attend theatres, operas and concerts and to become entirely absorbed in the creative momentum of the City of Light. He visited the Louvre, the artists’ colonies of Montparnasse and Montmartre, frequented the sidewalk bistros and rallying places of artists and intellectuals from all over the world and saw the work of Picasso and Brancusi. He was impressed by Brancusi’s submission to the nature of his material, the inherent properties of bronze, wood or marble. Later in South Africa Herman Wald thus remembered Paris:
“…the nerve centre of the art world made my heart beat in a tempo that echoes the heart-beat of every artist all over the world…”[xxiv]
and he added enthusiastically:
“Paris taught me that art must be lived”.[xxv]
But this magical period ground to a sudden halt. He was alerted to the murderous surge from France’s neighbour, who later became responsible for the death of many of his fellow artists. He hastily moved to London.
Thus Herman Wald’s formative years were marked by perpetual flight from the Nazi menace. The fact that he did not put down roots anywhere in Europe saved his life, but at the same time it proved an obstacle to his artistic development. Although these hindrances contributed to his growth, this came at a high price.
The London Years
Wald arrived in London towards the end of 1933 where two of his siblings had already settled. His older brother Max Mordecai Ariyeh, who had been ordained as a Rabbi, was serving a congregation[xxvi] and his sister Yolande had become a singer. He rented a small studio which doubled as his accommodation.
Wald was overwhelmed by the cultural richness of London, which he named “the queen of the imperial beehive” and felt that “beneath her channels her waters run deep…”[xxvii]
These “deep waters” profoundly impacted on his creative essence. During his initial years of training in Budpest, Vienna and Berlin he had developed his technical mastery of the craft. In London he grasped the heart of modern sculpture in a way he had not experienced before. The most momentous impact emanated from the great Jacob Epstein (1880-1990).[xxviii] Wald recognised the originality of his style during a period when Epstein still faced public hostility, when his sculptures were still branded as barbaric and “un-English”.
Wald’s sculptures conceived during his London period echo the primordial simplicity and vitality of Epstein. Epstein’s hunched “Elemental Figure” (1932) became a prototype for Wald’s “First Consciousness”, (clay. 1933 - 1937).
First Consciousness. 1937
Clay. 26 x 61 x 30 cm
Cat. [Work ID 95]
Homo sapiens still crawls on all fours like an animal. Only the head is turned upwards towards the realm of the spirit, symbolizes the transcendence from a pre-evolutionary stage.
De Profundis. 1937
Clay. 41 x 56 x 15 cm
Photo: cat. [work ID 70]
The massively solid yet pneumatic quality of the figure “De Profundis” (“from the depths”), depicting a woman with her thighs sunk into the base is indebted to Epstein’s marble sculpture “Genesis” (1929, Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery).
In his later works produced in South Africa, one of Epstein’s most radical sculptures “The Rock Drill” (1913. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery), a robotic figure mounted on an enormous drilling tool, which symbolized the monstrous transformation of man as a result of his scientific advance and technological achievements, would later echo in Wald’s sinister figures expressing the terror of an unknown power that can cause global destruction: “Triple Personality”
and “Zero Hour”.
ZERO HOUR. 1966
Clay. 87 x 33 x 19 cm
In London he also absorbed the sculptural work of Frank Dobson, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, who in his words:
“…embody the whole scale of the emotional complex of humanity…”[xxix]
He managed to obtain a teaching post at the Working Men’s College in Camden, North London, where he taught sculpture from 1934 to 1937.[xxx] This secured him a regular income and the freedom to execute his own works and realize his pursuits. However, the salary was meagre and Wald often did not earn enough money to buy his materials and pay his rent.
He is recorded to have participated in one exhibition in London but nothing further is known about that.[xxxi] Wald just needed more time to settle down and to establish himself in London, but then he had to uproot himself again.
Towards the end of London years, Wald created a female figure entitled “Fever” .
Clay. 26 x 46 x 50 cm
Photo: cat. www.hermanwald.com
[Work ID 98]
It represents a woman in an agonised posture, expressing the frenzy which pervaded the world at the time. Wald felt the catastrophe approaching and knew that the Jews of Europe were living in mortal danger. So after four years, urged by his brother Max, the Rabbi, now known as Marcus, who had meanwhile emigrated to South Africa and served the orthodox congregation in East London, Herman Wald uprooted himself once again and moved to South Africa. [xxxii]
Prior to his departure he was accorded official recognition by the Hungarian Jewish community, appearing in an anthology of prominent Hungarian Jewish painters, sculptors, poets and musicians. The book, entitled Kelet Es Nyugat Kozott (“Between East and West”) includes illustrations of Wald’s early work [xxxiii].
Herman Wald represents the proverbial deracinated “Wandering Jew” whose life and art reflects the unspeakable catastrophe visited upon European Jewry.
[i] Student registration form. The Archive, University of Fine Arts of Hungary, Budapest, from which all the facts relating to his studies in Budapest were gleaned. His address was: Flat 15, second floor, 53 Király street, District VII.
[ii] In total: 450,000 Korona. Ibid.
[iii] Figure drawing and painting under Ágost Benkhard, graphic design under Antal Meyer, anatomy under Dezsö Pilch, history of art under Károly Lyka, drawing also under Dezsö Pilch, and representational geometry under Antal Horn.
[iv] Stated by Úr Erdelyi, Herman Wald’s former school principal of the government school in Cluj. “he was the favourite of Kish Valudi Strobel Zsigmond…” in: Amerikai Magyar Nepszava. (The American Peoples Hungarian Newspaper). op.cit. English translation of the newspaper article: undated typescript. New York, after the 7th Sept. 1952. Archives of Louis Wald, op.cit.
[v] I am indebted to Louis Wald, for his personal reflections about this catastrophe regarding his grandfather and the psychological impact it must have had on his father, Herman Wald.
[vi] Hanak Museum catalogue, [undated] According to the biographical introduction, Hanak was the professor of the master classes at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna from 1913 to 1932.
[vii] Registration form of the Kunstgewerbeschule. The List of Professors of the Kunstgewerbeschule is gleaned from the publication: “Art: Demand and Object”. Vienna, 1991. I am indebted to Nathalie Feitsch, University of Applied Arts, Vienna, Dept. of Art Collections and Archives, for the information concerning the study course and the address of Herman Wald’s lodgings in Vienna.
[viii] Nathalie Feitsch kindly pointed out the lack of documentation that would verify whether Herman Wald was an unofficial student or an employed assistant of Hanak . E-mail dated 23.11. 2011. His address in Vienna was Grünentorgasse“ No. 30/1/4/“ district IX.
[ix] Herman Wald. CV on a certificate dated both 16 and 26 June 1966 [numbered E8-575] for an application for a South African Book of Life. Archive collection of Louis Wald, op.cit. See under Documents.
[x] “Ein Jahr bei Prof Hanak” (“One year with Prof Hanak”) Noted on Herman Wald’s registration certificate to the Kunstgewerbeschule in his own handwriting.
[xi] CV numbered E8-575, dated 16 and 26 June 1966 in the archive collection of Louis Wald, op cit.
[xii] Herman Wald. Autobiographical notes entitled “Carved Thoughts”, recorded during his army service in the South African Defence Force from 1940 to 1944. op.cit.
[xiii]According to his CV and notes by his daughter Pamela Weissman. See Timeline. Ibid.
[xiv] Claudio Naranjo. Tótila Albert Schneider (1892-1967. El Nascimento Del Yo (The birth of the I).Unpublished. cf www/Claudio Naranjo.net/pdf files totila_albert (2002).
[xvii] Naranjó, Ibid.
[xix] According to Mrs Pamela Weissmann, daughter of Herman Wald. It was inscribed: “26th December 1930 Herman Wald in memory of Totila”.
[xx] Destroyed during a bomb raid in WW II. Cf Claudio Naranjo op.cit.
[xxi] Claudio Naranjó, Totila Albert: Life and Work. www//Naranjo.net.
[xxii] According to the resumé of his life and the “Timeline” recording his biography by his daughter Pamela Weissmann. Op.cit.
[xxiii] The exact dates of his departure from Berlin and his arrival in Paris cannot be established. It may have been in April 1933 and it seems that he remained in Paris for seven months.
[xxiv]”Carved Thoughts”, op.cit.. See: Writings.
[xxvi] “My Father, Mordecai Aryeh Wald”, a typed memoir written by his son, Jeffrey. www.hermanwald.com. See under: Resources.
[xxvii] “Carved Thoughts” op. cit.
[xxviii]Although his wife Vera and his son Michael in their unpublished notes, entitled: Biography, mention a friendship between Herman Wald and Jacob Epstein there is no documentary evidence of this.
[xxix]Carved Thoughts, op.cit.
[xxx] CV Form E8-575, June 1966, www.hermanwald.com. op cit.
[xxxi] Mrs Bunny Stern nèe Hatchel , a pupil of Wald in Johannesburg, recalled in an interview on Wald that the painter Maurice De Sanzmarez (1915-1969) participated a group exhibition together with Herman Wald. Interview held in September 2011 in Toronto. Op,cit: biography.
[xxxii] He was enabled to undertake this trip to South Africa with the financial support of Sir Donald Harris, stated in Herman Wald’s personal CV.
[xxxiii] These are “Revolution”, (1931), “The Challenge” (1927), “Judith and Holofernes” (1928) and an untitled female figure.