Herman Van Aerde ‘Van Nazareth’

The Artist

Text by Willy Vanden Bussche

Herman van Nazareth – pseudonym of Herman van Aerde – (° Evergem, 1936) occupies a unique position in the South African art scene.  Due to his discourse, which is a protest against dehumanisation, he can be considered a precursor of humanitarian commitment in art.

Herman van Nazareth settles in Cape Town in South Africa in the beginning of the 1960s.  Initially, his works are a reflection of his experiences with the horrors of the Second World, by which he was personally affected. Herman van Nazareth starts out as a painter.  His paintings from the 1960s are the result of protest and an embittered expression of his opposition to all forms of merciless abuse of power, corruption, display of power and tyranny, cruelty and intolerance, which are all characteristics of a tormented society.

The artist also starts sculpting during this period.  His sculptures reflect the same kind of torment, bitterness and rebellion.  They are modelled roughly; the shapes are plain, the anatomy of his figures is highly simplified, almost abstract.  As a result of the extreme simplification of the anatomy and the absence of details and personality characteristics, his figures not only reflect the lack of identity of man but also his powerlessness in a violent society. The sculptures of Herman van Nazareth bear witness to his close involvement in the broad social and political context of South Africa.  The artist uses his sculptures as a voice of protest against any form of dictatorship, against any violation of humanity.  He gives shape to disillusionment and vulnerability, to the faceless and the soulless.

@ Frank De Mulder

Foto: Lambert J. Derenette

First Price Winning Still life – 1963

The position taken by Herman van Nazareth, which is also the starting point for his sculptures, constitutes a radical break with the past and with the work of his predecessors and his contemporaries.   Censorship barred protest and opposition from art, also in the 1960s, in a society dominated by ‘Apartheid’, which suppressed all forms of protest and rebellion with violence.

The sculptures of Herman van Nazareth can be seen as striking reflections of the weak, in a society where the ideology of apartheid set rulers and victims, brutality and arrogance, disillusionment and vulnerability against each other and where human rights were ignored completely.  Obviously, Herman van Nazareth received no recognition at all in the political context of the 1960s.  Only in the 1980s were protest and opposition in South African art able to gain ground and penetrate the art scene.

“Art is all about learning to see”

This is what makes the contribution of Herman van Nazareth to South African art so meaningful.  In a cruel world dominated by power, he creates room for tenderness, humaneness and love, which lie hidden in his sculptures.  They bear witness to an existential sensitiveness, in which man is the centre, the starting point of his search for dignity.  In this respect his work bears similarities with that of his host, Constant Permeke, who also made man and humanity the central theme of his oeuvre.

It is highly likely that the training he received from Floris Jespers at the Royal Academy in Antwerpen aroused this interest and his affinity with expressionism.  It is important to note, though, that the figuration used by Herman van Nazareth already precedes the view on painting of South African artists like Marlène Dumas in the 1960s.

“I have nothing against justice but I do have against privilege and injustice.”

‘Bloedroem’ – First famous Painting in South-Africa – (Reaction to Apartheid)
Red General – 1965

“It’s good to be alive”

De rode draad doorheen zijn werk, is zijn bestendige bekommernis om en zijn verontwaardiging over het ‘menselijk tekort’. Terug in België experimenteert hij verder met de ‘kunst van het weglaten’ maar deze keer zoekt hij zich een weg via een weloverwogen keuze aan materialen.

Namelessness and sobriety remain his signature. In the mid-80s he finds in plexiglass a challenge in which the play of light offers the added value. In 1987 he combines unity and renewal in his monumental and geometrically tinted work by the use of copper, iron and cortensteel.

His complete oeuvre can be called timeless without hesitation.


1961 – 1962 Enrolled at the Royal Academy in Ghent

1963 – 1964 Enrolled at the Royal Academy of Antwerp

1964 Private student of Floris Jespers

1965 – 1967 Michaelis School of Fine Arts, University Cape Town, South Africa

Prices and Awards

1966     Honourable Mention, S.A. Art Today, Durban

1967     Prize at the Cape Salon, Cape Town

1972     Campoprijs, Special Prize of the Royal Academie of Fine Art, Antwerp

1973     Bronze Medal at “Europaprijs voor Schilderkunst”, Oostend, Belgium

1974     Anto Carte Prize,”Paleis voor Schone Kunsten”, Brussels

Works in Public Collection

  • PMMK – Ostende Belgium
  • Work in posession of the Belgian Government and Flemish Govenment as well as
  • the Flemish Parliament
  • National Bank of Belgium
  • Museum of Deinze en Leiestreek, Deinze, Belgium
  • City of Deinze, Belgium
  • University of Ghent, Belgium
  • University of Louvain, Belgium
  • Domain of Domein Puyenbroeck, Wachtebeke, Belgium
  • Art Collection of the East Flanders Province, Belgium
  • Electrabel, Langerbrugge, Belgium
  • Hallen Kortrijk, Belgium
  • Sint Martens-Latem, Belgium
  • South African National Gallery, Cape Town
  • William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberly, South Africa
  • King George IV Museum, Port Elisabeth, South Africa
  • University of Pretoria, South Africa
  • University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • University West-Cape, Cape Town, South Africa
  • University Stellenbosch, South Africa
  • University UCT Cape Town, South Africa
  • Municipal Museum of Art, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Federaie Volksbelegging, South Africa
  • Municipale art collection, Sandton, South Africa
  • Salam , South Africa