Sali Herman was born in Switzerland in 1898. During the 1930s many artists like Herman came to Australia to escape the Fascist dictatorships of Europe, bringing new ideas about art and culture with them. He arrived in Melbourne in 1937 and studied briefly at the George Bell School, advocates of mild experimentation along the lines of early European modernists such as Cezanne. While living in Paris Herman had seen the work of many significant modern artists, including Van Gogh, Manet and Courbet.
Herman enlisted in the Army in 1941 and was assigned to the First Camouflage Section. He later became a sergeant with the 3rd Royal Australian Engineers Training Battalion at Kapooka. He was appointed an official war artist in 1945 and worked in the Pacific for five months, recording scenes in Lae, Torokina, Bougainville and Rabaul. During this time he did many field sketches, which formed the basis of the 26 paintings he submitted to the Memorial.
Herman is best known for his paintings of inner-city streets and slums around Sydney, which he did before and after the war. He was a keen observer of his surroundings and was able to translate the essence of a scene into paint using geometric blocks of form, pattern and contrasts for dramatic effect.
After the war Herman had a successful career as a painter, exhibited widely and won several major prizes. He received the Wynne Prize three times and the Sulman Prize twice, first in 1946 with Natives carrying wounded soldiers, a painting he produced as an official war artist.