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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.

Messiah, The.jpg



Clay.  101 x 51 x 5 cm

Photo: Cat. [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. [Work ID 149]

(See Part II, fig. 20)

Tete a Tete.jpg


Ceramic. 21 x 51 x 22 cm

Photo: Cat. [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”.  

Schizophrenics, The.jpg


Clay. 53 x 24 x 21 cm     

Photo: Cat. [Work ID 263]

(See Part II, fig. 29)

Rat Race, The.jpg


Clay. 29cm x 31  x 31 cm

Photo: Cat. [Work ID 24]]

(See Part II, fig. 245)

But ultimately the love motif would prevail.  

Lovers 1, The.jpg


Clay. 89 x 14 x 14 cm

Photo: [Work ID  224]

(See Part II, fig. 31)

Embrace 1 (horizontal).jpg

THE EMBRACE  1. 1965

Bronze.  24 x 61 x 26 cm

Photo: Cat: [Work ID 85]

(See Part II, fig. 34)

Embrace 3.jpg

EMBRACE 3.  1969                                                                        Bronze. 69 x 21 x 21 cm  

Photo: Cat. [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.    

Muse, The.jpg

THE MUSE. 1968

Clay. 17 x 74 x 17cm

Photo: Cat. [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. [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.

Impala 4_Opt2_RGB.jpg

The Impala Fountain. 1960

Bronze. 250 x 500 x 120 cm

Cat. [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. 

6 Million Morning.jpg

Memorial to the Six Million. 1959

Bronze. H: 6m

Photo: Cat. [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. 


The Diamond Diggers. 1960

Bronze. 1½ life-sized

Photo: cat. [Work ID 68]

Personal disappointments

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,


Judith and Holofernes. 1928

Clay. [Measurements unknown]

 Photo: Cat. [Work ID 135]

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”


HAGAR 2. 1937/44

Zimbabwean Teak Wood.

Photo: [ID 108]

Photo: Cat. [Work ID 117]

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



(Damaged nose)

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".


The Sacrifice of Isaac. 1944/55


Photo:  Cat.: [Work ID 254]

It  was followed by another  father-and-son theme of “Isaac Blessing Jacob”.


 Isaac blessing Jacob. 1954/55

 Clay. 28x29x24cm

 Photo: cat.: [Work ID 254]

He  also exhibited  works reflecting the Holocaust: Cain (See Part II, Fig. 4), and Lot’s wife (Part II fig. 19) which were  mentioned above.

“Solomon’s Judgement” was conceived as  a metaphor for the dispute over the establishment of the  State of Israel.

Solomon's Judgement.jpg

Solomon’s Judgement.  1953

Clay. 48 x 53 x 34 cm

Photo: Cat. [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. [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”


Jacob wrestling with the Angel.  1950

Bronze. 77 x 29 x 24cm

Photo: Cat. [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”.


Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  1955

Clay. Measurements unknown

Photo: Cat. [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.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[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.

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