John Heartfield

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John Heartfield (1959)

John Heartfield (born June 19, 1891 in Schmargendorf ; † April 26, 1968 in East Berlin ; actually Helmut Herzfeld , sometimes incorrectly spelled Herzfelde ) was a German painter , graphic artist , photomontage artist and set designer . He was a pioneer at the interface between art and media and is widely regarded as the inventor of political photo montage. He was the brother of Wieland Herzfelde .



Helmut Herzfeld was the first of four children of the writer Franz Held (actually Franz Herzfeld) and Alice Herzfeld nee. Stolzenberg to the world. In 1895 Franz Held was sentenced to imprisonment for blasphemy . The family then moved to Switzerland and later to Aigen near Salzburg . For an unexplained reason, the parents left their children in the summer of 1899, Helmut Herzfeld and his siblings were taken in by the married couple Ignaz and Clara Varschein. His uncle Joseph Herzfeld became the guardian, but he is said not to have looked after him.

Apprenticeship and training time

In 1905, Helmut Herzfeld began an apprenticeship as a bookseller in Wiesbaden , which was followed by studies at the Munich School of Applied Arts from 1908 to 1911 . In 1912 he first worked as a commercial artist in Munich . Since this task did not fulfill him, he began studying at the arts and crafts school in Charlottenburg in the same year .

In 1914, at the beginning of the First World War , Herzfeld was drafted as a soldier to the Emperor Franz Garde Grenadier Regiment No. 2 stationed in Berlin . In the autumn of the same year he met George Grosz .

Change of name and foundation of the publishing house

After he was discharged from the army in 1915 because of a simulated nervous disease, Herzfeld officially called himself "John Heartfield" from 1916. He wanted to protest against the nationalism that was prevalent in the German Empire and, in particular, hostile to England . The occasion was the slogan of Ernst Lissauer's God punish England . In the following year he founded the Malik publishing house in Berlin with his brother Wieland Herzfelde .

Dadaist art

From May to June he designed the typography for the two weekly editions of the magazine Die Neue Jugend and the Kleine Grosz-Mappe . At the same time, the first Dadaist attempts at pressure were made. In the last year of the war, Heartfield worked with George Grosz on the animated film Pierre in St. Nazaire for the Military Photo Agency . After completion, however, this did not accept the work.

Heartfield joined the KPD on December 31, 1918, the day it was founded . From 1919 he was known as the protagonist of the Berlin “Dada movement” and in this scene as “Monteurdada”. Increasing activities in the new art movement followed. In April 1920 Heartfield published Dada 3 together with George Grosz and Raoul Hausmann . In June he took part in the First International Dada Fair in Berlin. In the same year he and Grosz published the essay Der Kunstlump . The dust jackets and book covers designed by Heartfield from 1921 for the Malik publishing house and other publishers were already distinguished by his photomontage technique and were apparently so respected that they were sometimes ordered from the publisher without the accompanying book. He also became head of equipment for the Reinhardt Theaters in Berlin under Erwin Piscator and in 1923 worked for the satirical magazine Der Knüppel .

Master of the photomontage technique

1- Mark - Block of the GDR-Post 1981 with a reconstruction of a photo montage by John Heartfield in the Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung No. 45 from November 16, 1933; of the charge of Reichstagsbrand Foundation free spoken Dimitrov shown as oversized funnel and a small Goering as Facing

Heartfield's photomontage After Ten Years: Fathers and Sons 1924 was published in 1924 . It is considered to be his first political photo montage . On the picture you can see Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg , behind whom the skeletons of soldiers stand at attention. A group of children in cadet uniforms with rifles slung over their shoulders passes them, the alleged dead fathers. In 1929 a picture book, written together with Kurt Tucholsky , was published with the satirical title Deutschland, Deutschland über alles . In 1930 Heartfield became a permanent employee of the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ) published by Willi Münzenberg , and from 1936 Die Volks-Illustrierte (VI), in which his political photo montages appeared regularly until 1938. One of his most famous works is titled With Millions Standing Behind Me and shows Adolf Hitler , in whose hand folded back in greeting an archetypal industrialist puts a bundle of money (subtitle "The meaning of the Hitler salute: Little man asks for great gifts."). His other works were also distributed en masse, including on the titles of left-wing magazines and on KPD posters. From the spring of 1931 the artist lived in the Soviet Union for a year and worked there on various projects (exhibitions, plays).

Working in exile

1933 fled John Heartfield against the Nazis in Czechoslovakia after the SA stormed his apartment. From Prague he continued his work for opposition publications in Germany. On November 3, 1934, the Deutsche Reichsanzeiger published the third expatriation list of the German Reich through which he was expatriated . Heartfield took part in the caricature exhibition of the Mánes Art Association in Prague. A protest note by the German envoy against him and his work made his further work in exile in Prague difficult . In 1935 an exhibition of his works followed in Paris , on which Heartfield himself worked. The first monograph , written by Sergei Tretyakov , appeared in 1936 . Heartfield had spent much time with him during his stay in the Soviet Union.

After the occupation of the Sudetenland , Heartfield fled to Great Britain by air on December 6, 1938 with the help of English intellectuals . In 1940 his health deteriorated because he was held in an internment camp as an enemy alien . He took part in events organized by the Free German Cultural Association and worked as a book designer for English publishers. He seldom reached the class of his earlier works, for example with his work And She Moves .

Life in the GDR

John Heartfield (middle) in 1960 in conversation with Otto Nagel and Wieland Herzfelde (right) about one of his photomontages.

On August 31, 1950, Heartfield returned to Germany via Prague and went to the GDR , where he lived in Leipzig until 1956 . Together with his brother Wieland he worked for various theaters, publishers and organizations in the GDR.

After returning to Germany, the Kulturbund announced a Heartfield exhibition in October 1950, but it did not take place. Heartfield's photomontages were criticized as a formalism, citing Georg Lukács . His application to join the SED was denied for security reasons , and exile in England was held against him. In 1951 Heartfield suffered a first heart attack , from which he did not recover for a long time and was followed by a second heart attack in November 1952. Bertolt Brecht advised him to leave “the absurd Leipzig climate” and come to Berlin and to him in Märkische Schweiz , where the writer owned a summer house in Buckow .

Grave of John Heartfield in the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof in Berlin

He did not resume work until 1954. In June of the same year, the writer Stefan Heym publicly called for Heartfield's admission to the GDR Academy of Arts . In 1956 Heartfield moved to Berlin and was elected a full member of the Academy of Arts . In 1957 Heartfield moved into a summer house in Waldsieversdorf in Märkische Schweiz , which is now open again as a memorial. In the same year he was on 7 October during a trip to China by the Ambassador of the GDR National Prize awarded for art and literature, in 1960 he was appointed professor awarded. In 1962 Heartfield fell seriously ill again. His brother Wieland published John Heartfield that same year . Life and work , which is still considered the authoritative source for Heartfield research to this day.

Despite honors and material donations, during Heartfield's lifetime there was a strong reserve in the GDR system, or even rejection of Heartfield's photomontage as the current graphic medium.

In 1968 John Heartfield died in East Berlin at the age of 76 and was buried in the Dorotheenstadt cemetery . According to his will, a John Heartfield Archive was set up in the GDR Academy of the Arts.



  • 2020: John Heartfield - Photography plus Dynamite , Academy of the Arts, Berlin
  • 2012: John Heartfield: photomontagens , Museu Lasar Segall, São Paulo
  • 2009: John Heartfield (1891–1968) - photography as wapen , Museum de Fundatie - Paleis a / d Blijmarkt, Zwolle
  • 2009: John Heartfield - time excerpts , Berlinische Galerie, Berlin
  • 2008: John Heartfield vs. Nazi Germany , Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH
  • 2006: John Heartfield - Photomontages Politiques 1930–1938 , Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain (MAMCS), Strasbourg
  • 2006: Agitated images. John Heartfield and German photomontage , J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2003: John Heartfield: Fighting the Dogs of War , Davison Art Center, Middletown, CT
  • 1993: John Heartfield: Photomontages - MoMA , Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
  • 1992: John Heartfield , Sprengel Museum Hannover, Hannover
  • 1992: John Heartfield. 1891–1968 , Kunsthalle Tübingen , Tübingen
  • 1991: John Heartfield , Akademie der Künste, Berlin
  • 1991: John Heartfield , Photomontages 1930–1938 - Kent Fine Art LLC, New York, NY
  • 1991: John Heartfield , Kent Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1986: John Heartfield , Otto-Nagel-Haus, Berlin
  • 1978: John Heartfield - drawings, photomontages, collages , Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin
  • 1977: John Heartfield - photo mechanic , Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt am Main
  • 1977: John Heartfield: Photomontages , ICA - Institute of Contemporary Arts London, London
  • 1976: Heartfield - Cabinet in the National Gallery of the National Museums in Berlin (GDR), opened on June 19, 1976
  • 1974: John Heartfield: photomontages , Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris
  • 1969: John Heartfield - photomontages , ICA - Institute of Contemporary Arts London, London
  • 1967: John Heartfield. Fotomontör , Moderna Museet, Stockholm


  • Germany, Germany above all . A picture book by Kurt Tucholsky and many photographers. Assembled by John Heartfield. Universum Bücherei für alle , Berlin 1929. As paperback edition: Rowohlt, Reinbek 1980, ISBN 978-3-499-14611-4 .
  • Roland March : John Heartfield. Photomontages from the years 1924 to 1944. , intended as Insel-Buch 1023/1 in 1978 (largely maculated by Insel Verlag)
  • John Heartfield: Timeline. Photo montages 1918–1938. From the art collection of the Akademie der Künste. With texts by Thomas Friedrich, Sabine Kriebel, Roland März, Freya Mülhaupt, An Paenhuysen, Rosa von der Schulenburg, Andrés Mario Zervigón and Peter Zimmermann. Published by Freya Mülhaupt, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-7757-2432-6 .
  • John Heartfield and Roland März (arr.): Essay. The meaning of Geneva: where capital lives, peace cannot live! 1932. Photo montage. State Museums, Berlin 1981.


  • Bernd-Rainer BarthHeartfield, John . In: Who was who in the GDR? 5th edition. Volume 1. Ch. Links, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-86153-561-4 .
  • Hanne Bergius : Dada's laugh. The Berlin Dadaists and their actions , Anabas-Verlag, Giessen 1989, ISBN 978-3-8703-8141-7 .
  • Hanne Bergius: assembly and metamechanics. Dada Berlin - Aesthetics of Polarities (with reconstruction of the First International Dada Fair and Dada Chronology), Gebr. Mann Verlag, Berlin 2000, ISBN 978-3786115250 .
  • Hanne Bergius: Dada triumphs! Dada Berlin , 1917–1923. Artistry of Polarities. Montages - Metamechanics - Manifestations. Translated by Brigitte Pichon. Vol. V. of the ten editions of Crisis and the Arts. The History of Dada, ed. v. Stephen Foster, Thomson / Gale, New Haven, Conn. 2003, ISBN 978-0-816173-55-6 .
  • Anthony Coles: John Heartfield. A political life. Böhlau, Cologne 2014, ISBN 978-3-412-20999-5 .
  • David Evans: John Heartfield. Workers Illustrated Newspaper. Volks Illustrierte. 1930-38 . Kent Fine Art, New York 1992, ISBN 1-878607-28-6 .
  • Christine Fischer-Defoy , Michael Krejsa (Eds.): John Heartfield. The Berlin address book 1950–1968. Quintus-Verlag, Berlin 2020, ISBN 978-3-947215-75-1 .
  • Wieland Herzfelde: John Heartfield - life and work. Portrayed by his brother. Verlag der Kunst, Dresden 1962 ( Fundus series 99/100) (3rd revised edition 1976).
  • Klaus Honnef, Hans-Jürgen von Ostenhausen, Michael Krejsa, Petra Albrecht: John Heartfield Documentation. Reaction to an unusual exhibition. DuMont Buchverlag, Cologne 1994, ISBN 3-7701-3370-6 .
  • Douglas Kahn: John Heartfield. Art and Mass Media. Tanam Press, New York 1985.
  • Michael Krejsa: A friend of the unpaved roads. John Heartfield in Waldsieversdorf (1953 to 1968). Frankfurter Buntbücher No. 52, Frankfurt (Oder) 2013, ISBN 978-3-938008-38-6 .
  • Angela Lammert, Rosa von der Schulenburg and Anna Schultz: John Heartfield. Photography plus dynamite . Hirmer, Munich 2020, ISBN 978-3-7774-3442-1 .
  • Roland März: The cut along time. Self-testimonies memories interpretations. Verlag der Kunst, Dresden 1981 ( Fundus series 70/71/72).
  • Roland March: Heartfield assembled. 1930-1938. Edition Leipzig, Leipzig 1993.
  • Peter Pachnicke, Klaus Honnef: John Heartfield. , published on the occasion of the exhibition in the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn , in the Kunsthalle Tübingen , in the Sprengel Museum Hannover . Cologne DuMont 1991, ISBN 3-7701-2588-6 (English edition: HM Abrams, New York 1992, ISBN 0-8109-3413-2 ).
  • Rettej, Lux u. Friedrich Haufe: John Heartfield, book design and photomontage - a collection , Rotes Antiquariat und Galerie C. Bartsch, Berlin undated [2014].
  • Eckhard Siepmann: Montage: John Heartfield - from Club Dada to Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung. Elefanten Press Galerie, Berlin (West) 1977 (6th, improved edition 1980, ISBN 3-88520-001-5 ).
  • Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / National-Galerie: Heartfield , catalog in booklet form, published for the opening of a permanent Heartfield Cabinet on June 19, 1976, scientifically edited by Roland März
  • Michael Töteberg : Heartfield. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1978. ISBN 3-499-50257-7 .
  • Musées de Strasbourg: John Heartfield. 1891-1968. Strasbourg 2006, ISBN 2-35125-032-X .
  • Alain Weill: Encyclopédie de l'affiche . Editions Hazan, Paris 2011, ISBN 978-2-7541-0582-8 , pp. 362-363 m. Fig.

Web links

Commons : John Heartfield  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Töteberg : John Heartfield. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1978, p. 7.
  2. Left swivel march! ,, February 28, 2015
  3. Michael Hepp (Ed.): The expatriation of German citizens 1933-45 according to the lists published in the Reichsanzeiger . tape 1 : Lists in chronological order. De Gruyter Saur, Munich / New York / London / Paris 1985, ISBN 978-3-11-095062-5 , pp. 5 (reprinted 2010).
  4. Wieland Herzfelde: John Heartfield, life and work . Dresden, edition from 1971, pp. 97/98.
  5. Freya Mülhaupt (ed.), John Heartfield: Zeitausschnitte, photomontages 1918–38. 2009; see: review on; Retrieved August 17, 2009.
  6. Christian Schröder: John Heartfield's house in Waldsieversdorf In: Der Tagesspiegel , June 28, 2009.
  7. ^ Herbert Kästner : John Heartfield: Photomontages . In: Insel-Bücherei. Messages for friends . Number 8, p. 37