In the train 1953 also known as 'Two sleeping figures' signed and dated 'S Herman 53' lower right oil on canvas 38.0 x 48.5cm (14 15/16 x 19 1/8in).
PROVENANCE Mr and Mrs Ross Grey-Smith by 1962 Pro Hart, Broken Hill Australian and International Art, Deutscher Menzies, Sydney, 15 March 2006, lot 12A (illus.) The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 2006
LITERATURE James Cook, 'Solidity, within 2 shows', Daily Telegraph, Sydney, 11 August 1954 Daniel Thomas, Sali Herman, Georgian House, 1962, p. 16, pl. 30 (illus.) John Hetherington, Australian painters: forty profiles, F.W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1963, p. 74 (illus.)
There is an intriguing quality to In the train which Sali Herman painted in 1953. The deathly pallor of the two sleeping figures and the sombre palette are reminiscent of night time travel on trains during the Second World War. Herman was no stranger to this experience having initially enlisted and been assigned to the First Camouflage Unit. He then served as a sergeant in the Australian army at Kapooka before receiving an appointment as an Australian official war artist in 1945. He travelled a number of times between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, joining the many troops who were being ferried across the country before they embarked for foreign shores, returned to base camp or their homes. As a captain during his art commission he spent five months travelling and recording his experiences in the Pacific.
The two figures in the painting appear exhausted. The sculptural quality of the heads and the neck, as if hewn in granite evoke a sense of death, particularly the figure on the left. Herman has skilfully built up the paint- surface where the green paint overlays the pink and beige tones of the skin. The open necked shirt with a texture of green, brown and yellow emerges as a khaki uniform. The burst of light on the window is almost an explosion and the figures are framed on one side by a curtain of burnt red.
Herman is known to have used earlier drawings to complete paintings many years later. He also re-worked some of his paintings, for example portraits of his mother which were painted over a number of years.
The Australian War Memorial holds 45 paintings and drawings by Herman, 26 selected from the works he completed during his appointment. Only one painting is of soldiers at Albury Station Between two trains 1946 which was where the train gauge changed and soldiers were forced to sit and wait in the dark and the cold for the connecting train to either Sydney or Melbourne. There are also three charcoal and wash drawings of Australian soldiers wearing hats, completed in 1945, two of which also feature the open necked shirts. There is one other recorded painting, Railway station 1947, which is not in the Memorial's collection, and depicts soldiers on a platform.
In the early part of 1953 Herman was in Europe for six months, primarily for his solo exhibition at the Leicester Street Gallery in London in April. During this period he also travelled to Zurich and Paris.
The 20 pictures completed after his European trip were first exhibited in August 1954 at Macquarie Galleries in Sydney. In the train was hung with subjects from Paris and London. There is nothing to indicate whether the two sleeping figures are on an English or French train. More than likely it could have been one of the major railway stations in London from which troops were dispatched across Europe to engage in post war reconstruction and to ensure the suppression of hostilities.
It is possible that while Herman was travelling through Europe the sight of soldiers on a train might have sparked some memory of the war years. Herman may have still kept a drawing, which has never surfaced, and decided to reuse the subject at a later time.
In the train was exhibited in 1961 at the Argus Gallery as Sleeping soldiers and was lent by Mr and Mrs Ross Grey-Smith. An annotation by Daniel Thomas appears in the Macquarie Galleries catalogue of 1954, held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It queries whether the two titles are for the same painting. Given no other work has ever surfaced and the provenance of this work is well known there is little doubt that it is the same work.
It is a strong picture, not a typical Herman of terrace houses but a portrait of people which demonstrates his interest in humanity and skill in evoking emotion and atmosphere.
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