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John Heartfield

  • After escaping from his first exile in Prague in December 1938, the political artist John Heartfield lived in London since 1950, working for [i]Picture Post[/i] and the publisher Lindsay Drummond.
  • John
  • Heartfield
  • 19-06-1891
  • Schmargendorf (DE)
  • 26-04-1968
  • Berlin (GDR)
  • ArtistGraphic DesignerFotomonteur (mounter of photographs)
  • After escaping from his first exile in Prague in December 1938, the political artist John Heartfield lived in London since 1950, working for Picture Post and the publisher Lindsay Drummond.

    Word Count: 28

  • Richard St. Barbe Baker. Africa drums. Lindsay Drummond, 1943, cover design by John Heartfield (METROMOD Archive, © The Heartfield Community of Heirs / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021).
  • After escaping from his first exile in Prague in December 1938, the artist John Heartfield lived in London. He had managed to escape with the support of the Czech Refugee Trust Fund (Bunbury 1938) and the war journalist Martha Gellhorn (Schultz 2020, 196). In London, Heartfield first stayed with the historian Yvonne Knapp, then moved into the home of the émigré artist Fred Uhlman and his wife Diana Uhlman at 47 Downshire Hill, Hampstead (Uhlman 1998, 265f.). The émigré art historian Francis Klingender also lived there for a time. Heartfield was interned as an enemy alien in 1940, but was released for health reasons in August of the same year. After his release, Heartfield lived at 1 Jackson Lane, Highgate. His landlord was Otto Manasse, a doctor from southern Germany who held free consultations at the Free German League of Culture House (Adam 2014, 18). Living with Heartfield was his partner Gertrud “Tutti” Fietz (Heartfield from 1952), whom he had met in London.
    In Berlin and also during his time in Prague, Heartfield had regularly designed political front pages for the AIZ (Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung) which called for resistance to National Socialism and exposed its leadership. In exile in England, Heartfield continued his political work under new auspices – as the exiled draughtsman fighting against Hitler; it was not for nothing that Heartfield’s first solo exhibition in London, held 4–22 December 1939, was called One Man’s War against Hitler. The exhibition took place under the auspices of the Free German League of Culture at the Arcade Gallery (28 Royal Arcade, Old Bond Street), a young gallery founded by the Viennese émigré Paul Wengraf.

    John Heartfield was already in contact by letter in Prague with the journalist Stefan Lorant, who had emigrated to London and who offered him the prospect of publication in his magazines Picture Post and Lilliput: “Thank you for your letter and the very striking photomontage-work you submitted. I think they are first-class and have decided to publish some of them in one of our next issues. I should like to discuss with you personally your ideas for photomontages as set out in your letter, and would greatly appreciate if you could come to London so that we can talk over this matter more fully.” (Lorant 1938) On 15 October 1938, Lorant published Heartfield’s montage The Happy Elephants in Picture Post, showing two winged elephants in a landscape. While one pachyderm is already flying towards the sky with its head and trunk raised, the other is in the process of taking off. The caption reads: “The elephants are happy. They are flying about in the sky. The elephants are happy because they have got peace. For how long have the elephants got peace? Ah, that alas! no one can say.” The animal montage contains a political reference: Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy intended to bring peace to the tense relationship with Hitler’s Germany, but the sustainability of the Munich Agreement concluded in September 1938 was questionable. This agreement was also momentous for émigrés in Prague like John Heartfield, as Czechoslovakia was ‘sacrificed’ as a measure of appeasement policy – Germany was granted the Sudetenland, and German troops invaded on 1 October, two weeks before Picture Post published Heartfield’s montage (Schultz 2020, 196). Ultimately, this deal, which brought only temporary peace to England, led to Heartfield’s emigration.

    Important during Heartfield’s time in exile was his involvement in the Free German League of Culture, which was founded at the end of 1938 at the home of Fred Uhlman and of whose artists’ section Heartfield was a member (Brinson/Dove 2008, 5). Heartfield was active as a stage designer in the League’s cabaret group 4 x 20 black sheep, and also wrote the libretto for The Refugees song (Dörschel 2020, 152). Heartfield was also involved in the design of the Allies Inside Germany exhibition, put on by the Free German League of Culture, which opened in 1942. The exhibition aimed to convince the English population that they had potential allies in Germany (Frowein 1986, 45). Allies Inside Germany featured photographs, pamphlets and illegal publications from Germany, as well as photomontages supplied by John Heartfield. The 27 panels depicted the rise of the Hitler regime, the war and invasions by the German army, but also mentioned the resistance and the life and work of the emigrants. Heartfield contributed with new photomontages but also used material previously published in AIZ.

    On the occasion of John Heartfield’s 50th birthday, the English art historian Herbert Read wrote in 1941: “John Heartfield is one of those rare artists who have extended the range of our aesthetic sensibility by inventing a new technique. He has seen the creative possibilities of montage – of the photograph as a plastic material which can be manipulated and made to produce effects independent of its mechanical origin.” (Read 1941, 6) In the same issue of Freie Deutsche Kultur, the League’s news bulletin, reference is made to an artist’s lecture by John Heartfield on “Photomontages and Book Bindings” on 19 June 1941.
    Heartfield also published in the Freie Deutsche Kultur himself. His article titled Daumier is a reference both to the 19th century political draughtsman and to cultural historian and Daumier connoisseur Eduard Fuchs, who had been ostracised and persecuted by the Nazis (Heartfield 1942). Moreover, John Heartfield collected works by British caricaturists from the 18th century to the present day in London, such as James Gillray, William Hogarth and Thomas Rowlandson – in other words, those artists in whom the painter Ludwig Meidner, also exiled in London, was particularly interested. Heartfield also collected contemporary caricatures from newspapers such as The News Chronicle, the Daily Mirror and the Evening Standard. Heartfield's collection includes caricatures by Victor Weisz, also an émigré like Heartfield, who published under the pen name Vicky (Schultz 2015, 262).

    Heartfield made a steady living between 1941 and 1949 and found a platform for his art at the Lindsay Drummond publishing house. Lindsay Drummond, founded in 1937, had a declared anti-fascist programme and also published books by politically committed emigrated authors such as Wilhelm Necker, Jacob S. Worm-Müller and Felix Langer. Heartfield translated the political themes of the publishing house into a specific visual language that was intended to stir, fascinate, frighten and appeal. For Wilhelm Necker’s books Hitler’s War Machine and The Invasion of Britain (1941) and The German Army of Today (1943), Heartfield used existing printed material, which he edited, combined, and sometimes treated with gouache paint.
    For the cover of Africa drums (1943) by the Africa expert Richard St. Barbe Baker, which dealt with the transmission of news by drums on the African continent, Heartfield used two photographs. The one at the back shows a gathering of people in tribal dress, while the one in front features two drums in close-up. Heartfield thus brings the central theme of the book to the forefront, with the drumheads facing the viewer, evoking the potential creation of sounds through drumming.
    The cover of Egon Larsen’s Inventors’ Scrapbook (1947), dedicated to inventions and inventors, is a collage of photographs, drawings and text. You can see inventions, such as the X-ray or the bicycle. The objects are arranged like a mind map, a hodgepodge of different things that condenses a human history of innovations onto one cover. Heartfield’s design shows that histories of technology are not inevitably based on a logical timeline of inventions, but can take place within an individual time frame and in disorderly fashion. In the process, the inventions shown can be beneficial (like the wheel) or devastating (like the atomic bomb).

    Shortly after the end of the war, Heartfield designed the book The Pen is mightier. The Story of the War in Cartoons (1946). The cover was by Walter Trier, one of the main caricaturist of the émigré newspaper Die Zeitung and the magazine Lilliput. Trier’s cover shows an artist holding a huge pen over his shoulder like a rifle, while Mussolini, Hitler, Göring and Lavar hang from it like trophies. The artist who wins over oppression can here be interpreted as the alter ego of both Walter Trier and John Heartfield. Some of the caricatures printed in the book came from John Heartfield’s collection (Schultz 2015, 262).
    Heartfield’s association with Lindsay Drummond ensured that his work was noticed in England. Lindsay Drummond’s anti-fascist books mainly reached a politically left-leaning selection of readers, but was, nevertheless, a busy and apparently successful publishing house that released 157 titles during the years of the Second World War alone. Heartfield’s signature appeared clearly on the covers of those books for whose design he was also responsible.
    Heartfield’s last published works for Lindsay Drummond appeared in 1949, followed by work for Penguin Books before he left in 1950 for the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

    Word Count: 1432

  • Adam, Ursula. “Helen Reinfrank (1915–2011). Biographische Anmerkungen.” Neuer Nachrichtenbrief der Gesellschaft für Exilforschung e.V., no. 43, June 2014, pp. 16–19, Accessed 23 March 2021.

    Brinson, Charmian, and Richard Dove. “The Continuation of Politics by Other Means: The Freie Deutscher Kulturbund in London, 1939–1946.” “I didn’t want to float; I wanted to belong to something.” Refugee Organizations in Britain 1933–1945 (Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, 10), edited by Anthony Grenville and Andrea Reiter, Rodopi, 2008, pp. 1–25.

    Brinson, Charmian, and Richard Dove, editors. Politics By Other Means. The Free German League of Culture in London 1939–1946. Vallentine Mitchell, 2010.

    Buenger, Barbara Copeland. “John Heartfield in London, 1938–45.” Exil. Flucht und Emigration europäischer Künstler 1933–1945, edited by Stephanie Barron and Sabine Eckmann, exh. cat. Neue Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, 1997, pp. 74–79.

    Bunbury, H.N., Director of Czech Refugee Trust Fund. Letter for John Heartfield (Akademie der Künste, Archiv Bildende Kunst, 10 November 1939).

    Coles, Anthony. John Heartfield. Ein politisches Leben. Böhlau, 2014.

    Dörschel, Stephan. “Longing for ‘Bold Constructions’. John Heartfield and the Theatre.” John Heartfield. Photography Plus Dynamite, edited by Angela Lammert et al., exh. cat. Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 2020, pp. 149–157.

    Frowein, Cordula. “Ausstellungsaktivitäten der Exilkünstler.” Kunst im Exil in Großbritannien 1933–1945, exh. cat. Neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst, Berlin, 1986, pp. 35–48.

    Heartfield, John. “Daumier im ‘Reich’.” Freie Deutsche Kultur, no. 2, 1942, pp. 7–8.

    Heartfield, John. Der Schnitt entlang der Zeit. Selbstzeugnisse, Erinnerungen, Interpretationen, edited by Roland März, Verlag der Kunst, 1981.

    Larsen, Egon. Inventors’ Scrapbook. Lindsay Drummond, 1947.

    Lorant, Stefan. Letter to John Heartfield (Akademie der Künste, Archiv Bildende Kunst, John-Heartfield-Archiv, 7 October 1938).

    Lynx, J.J. The Pen is mightier. The Story of War in Cartoons. Lindsay Drummond, 1946.

    Müller-Härlin, Anna. “The Artists’ Section.” Politics By Other Means. The Free German League of Culture in London 1939–1946, edited by Charmian Brinson and Richard Dove, Vallentine Mitchell, 2010, pp. 54–73.

    Read, Herbert. “Zum 50. Geburtstag von John Heartfield.” Freie Deutsche Kultur, no. 6, 1941, p. 6.

    Schultz, Anna. “John Heartfield. A Political Artist’s Exile in London.” Burning Bright. Essays in the Honour of David Bindman, edited by Diana Dethloff et al., UCL Press, 2015, pp. 253–263. JSTOR, Accessed 16 April 2021.

    Schultz, Anna. “Uncompromising Mimicry. Heartfield’s Exile in London.” John Heartfield. Photography Plus Dynamite, edited by Angela Lammert et al., exh. cat. Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 2020, pp. 195–202.

    St. Barbe Baker, Richard. Africa drums. Lindsay Drummond, 1943.

    Vinzent, Jutta. Identity and Image. Refugee Artists from Nazi Germany in Britain (1933–1945) (Schriften der Guernica-Gesellschaft, 16). VDG, 2006.

    Willimowski, Thomas. Stefan Lorant – Eine Karriere im Exil. wvb, 2005.

    Word Count: 424

  • Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Archiv Bildende Kunst, Papers of John Heartfield.

    Word Count: 12

  • My deepest thanks go to Sylvia Asmus and Katrin Kokot (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main) for providing me with the images of Freie Deutsche Kultur.

    Word Count: 27

  • Burcu Dogramaci
  • Prague, Czech Republic (1933–1938), London, GB (1938–1950).

  • c/o Fred and Diana Uhlman, 47 Downshire Hill, Hampstead, London NW3 (residence, 1939–1940); 1 Jackson Lane, Highgate, London N6 (residence, 1940–1950).

  • London
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "John Heartfield." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 20-06-2021.
  • Herbert Read
    Art HistorianArt CriticPoet

    The British art historian Herbert Read established himself as a central figure in the London artistic scene in the 1930s and was one of the outstanding supporters of exiled artists.

    Word Count: 30

    A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939

    Six years after her arrival in London, the photographer Lucia Moholy published her book A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939, on the occasion of the centenary of photography.

    Word Count: 27

    Freie Deutsche Kultur

    The Free German League of Culture was an association of emigrant artists and authors who organised exhibitions, concerts and lectures. The events were announced in the Freie Deutsche Kultur newsletter.

    Word Count: 30

    Allies inside Germany

    On 3 July 1942, the Allies inside Germany exhibition, organised by the Free German League of Culture, opened in London in an empty shop at 149 Regent Street.

    Word Count: 25

    Lindsay Drummond
    Publishing House

    The artist John Heartfield designed covers for the publishing house Lindsay Drummond, which had an anti-fascist programme and published books by emigrated authors such as Wilhelm Necker and Felix Langer.

    Word Count: 30

    St. George’s Gallery
    Art Gallery

    In 1943, the art dealer Lea Bondi Jaray, with support of Otto Brill, also exiled from Vienna, took over St. George’s Gallery in Mayfair, exhibiting contemporary British and continental art.

    Word Count: 30

    Die Zeitung

    From 1941 to 1945, the émigré German-language newspaper Die Zeitung was published in London, reporting on the war on the continent and on the situation in Germany.

    Word Count: 25


    The magazine Lilliput, founded by the émigré journalist Stefan Lorant in 1937, gave work to emigrated artists and photographers such as Kurt Hutton, Walter Suschitzky, Walter Trier and Edith Tudor-Hart.

    Word Count: 29

    Ludwig Meidner, Drawings 1920–1922 and 1935–49, Else Meidner, Paintings and Drawings 1935–1949

    In 1949, a joint exhibition of works by Ludwig and Else Meidner opened at the Ben Uri Art Gallery. It was the first solo exhibition of the artists in London.

    Word Count: 29