John Heartfield (German, 1891–1968)


John Heartfield began to make photomontages as a member of the Berlin branch of international Dada around 1920. Schooled in graphic arts and having worked briefly in animated film, Heartfield (who had anglicized his given name, Helmut Herzfeld, in 1917 as a protest against wartime nationalism) subsequently developed a cinematic effect in montages that he made for book illustration. His covers for popular left-wing novels published by his brother Wieland’s company, Malik Press, gained an enormous critical following—such that by the end of the 1920s, Heartfield was an acclaimed book designer. But it was his creation of political posters—particularly The Hand Has Five Fingers (1929)—and covers for the Workers’ Illustrated Magazine (AIZ) in the 1930s that made Heartfield a figure of towering importance across Europe. Artists in more than half a dozen countries, including Karel Teige, reprinted his images or imitated his combination of seamless photographic setups and pithy, often caustic slogans. In Germany until 1933, Heartfield’s images literally plastered newsstands; the artist (and the Malik enterprise) relocated thereafter to Prague to avoid Nazi persecution, and Heartfield ended up collaborating on Czech-language projects as well as taking part in several exhibitions there. He also traveled to Moscow; met Gustav Klutsis; and, like El Lissitzky, worked on an issue of the lavish Soviet publication USSR in Construction. Heartfield spent the 1940s in exile, principally in England, but became a citizen of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) after its founding in 1949.

John Heartfield. 5 Finger hat die Hand (The Hand Has Five Fingers), 1928. Ada Turnbull Hertle Fund.