'Peasant Girl' (Russian Girl) signed 'H.WALD'(lower right side) marble 47 x 19 x 24cm (18 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 9 7/16)
PROVENANCE: A private collection Herman Wald collection
EXHIBITED: Johannesburg, Selbourne Hall, South African Academy Exhibition, August 1944 Johannesburg, Duncan Hall, Exhibition of Sculpture by Herman Wald, September 1944. Johannesburg, Galleries Beaux-Arts, Exhibition of Sculpture by Herman Wald, 22 - 29 October 1954. Cape Town, South African Jewish Museum, Wings of the Shechinah: The Sculptural Art of Herman Wald, 15 February to 15 July 2012
Born into a Rabbinical family in Cluj in Hungary before the outbreak of the First World War, Herman Wald studied sculpture in Budapest, Vienna, Berlin and London before emigrating to South Africa in 1937. It was in Johannesburg that he established a prolific and diverse sculptural career, undertaking a number of well-known public commissions as well as many private and personal projects.
Wald's public sculptures are a notable feature of the urban landscape in such mining cities as Johannesburg and Kimberley. He is perhaps best known to the South African public for the seemingly weightless and flying forms of his bronze fountain-piece Stampede (otherwise known as the "Impala Fountain") (1960) in central Johannesburg. Commissioned by the mining magnate Harry Oppenheimer in memory of his father Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, the fountain was donated to the city as part of an urban improvement project initiated by Alec Gorshel, then mayor of Johannesburg. Another bronze fountain commission to honour South Africa's early diamond miners was also set up in the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Gardens in Kimberley in 1961. It consists of five heroic male worker figures supporting a giant diamond sieve. In 2011, The Unknown Miner, a posthumous bronze cast of Wald's much larger, initial maquette for these figures, was unveiled at the east entrance of the University of the Witwatersrand's recently-renovated Chamber of Mines building that houses its Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment.
Raised as an orthodox Jew by his rabbi-father, Wald often wrestled, as a sculptor, with doctrinal issues posed by the Second Commandment which proscribed the making of graven images. As if in response to this, he engaged himself with a number of sculptural projects for the Jewish community, contributing to the decorative programmes of a number of new synagogues being built in Johannesburg at the time. His huge ensemble Wings of the Schechinah (1967), made of beaten copper and bronze, once graced the Ark of the synagogue in Johannesburg's suburb of Berea. While many of these then-new Johannesburg synagogues have already since closed, the most notable and accessible of his monumental religious works is his bronze Memorial to the Six Million (1959) in the city's West Park Jewish Cemetery. This is an officially listed Holocaust memorial, and is still used as the platform for annual Holocaust remembrance ceremonies.
The recent Cape Town exhibition Wings of the Shechinah: The Sculptural Art of Herman Wald at the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town (2012) showcased the sculptor's versatility, revealing the wider extent of his creativity in other sculptural media beyond his more familiar public works in bronze. Wald produced many individualised commissioned portraits, but the current lot, 'Peasant Girl' (Russian Girl), is an evocation of an idealised 'heroic' female worker-type: a materialisation of the artist's memories of his early training in Budapest when his teachers there were responding to the ideological demands of Hungary's post-war communist regime.
One of the artist's few surviving works in marble, 'Peasant Girl' was first exhibited at the South African Academy Exhibition in 1944, where it was hailed in a review in The Star newspaper as being "full of character and excellent modelling". It was also featured on the cover of a 1951 edition of the South African periodical Jewish Affairs. The work was felt to conjure up a spirit of dedication, fortitude and affinity for the land of Israel. The image resonated with Jewish readers swept up in the euphoria following the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. Although before the final establishment of Israel, 'Peasant Girl' was nevertheless fixed upon as embodying the ideals of the chalutzim (Jewish agricultural workers) who flocked to Israel to assist in developing the new country.
We are grateful to Hayden Proud for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.
CAPTION FOR CONTEXTUAL IMAGE: Installation view of 'Peasant Girl' (Russian Girl) in the exhibition Wings of the Shechinah: The Sculptural Art of Herman Wald (2012)