Rare early painting by Josef Herman acquired by Ben Uri

Refugees, a significant early painting by Jewish émigré artist Josef Herman, that had been thought lost for 60 years, has been bought for the Ben Uri collection with Art Fund support.

Josef Herman was born into a poor, working-class Jewish family in Warsaw in 1911. He began his career as an apprentice typesetter and graphic artist, before training at the Warsaw School of Art from 1930 to 1932, where he developed an interest in portraying the lives of working people.

With a growing atmosphere of anti-Semitism in Poland, Herman fled Warsaw for Brussels in 1938, where he was influenced by the Flemish expressionists. The German invasion of Belgium in 1940 prompted a further escape through France and England before eventually settling in Glasgow, where he remained until 1943.

Refugees is part of a series of works Herman created in Glasgow between 1940 and 1943, collectively known as the Memory of Memories. The figures in the painting represent the Jewish people who escaped Nazi Germany in the 1930s, as well as the wider diaspora communities that grew following the upheavals of the Second World War. Works from that period in Herman's career are rare: later in life, he spurned the influence of Marc Chagall on his early works, and burned the majority of them in 1948.

The work has been acquired by Ben Uri with support from the Art Fund. It will now feature among 40 exhibits exploring art, identity and migration in Ben Uri's centenary exhibition at Somerset House from 1 July to 13 December 2015.

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