“I see the future development of painting taking place in workshops… not in any holy temple of the arts.”
Crowds in the streets shouted “God Punish England!” to voice their support of the German WWI effort. This out-of-control nationalism disgusted the young German artist with the legal name Helmut Herzfeld. He informally changed his name from Helmut Herzfeld to John Heartfield as a protest. From that point on, he signs his artwork “John Heartfield.” However, it was decades before his name legally became John Heartfield so Helmut Herzfeld often appears on legal papers such as passports and letters of transport.
In 1916, Wieland Herzfelde (b. Wieland Herzfeld) became the publisher of Neue Jugend (New Youth). The exhibition includes full copies of Der Dada 3 and Neue Jugend. By April 1917, German authorities banned Neue Jugend.
George Grosz and John Heartfield work together to create Dada masterpieces. At first glance, it appears they pasted together elements randomly. However, it is clear that they carefully choose the element, its position, and its angle to convey a message, a visual jolt to the viewer.
“When John Heartfield and I invented photomontage in my South End studio at five o’clock on a May morning in 1916, neither of us had any inkling of its great possibilities, nor of the thorny yet successful road it was to take. As so often happens in life, we had stumbled across a vein of gold without knowing it.” George Grosz
In 1918, John Heartfield became a founding member of Berlin Club Dada. George Grosz, Kurt Schwitters, Max Ernst and John Heartfield go on to organize the First International Dada Fair in a Berlin gallery in 1920. The fair features the stunning work of Berlin Club Dada artists, such as Hannah Höch and Raoul Hausmann. The First International Dada Fair is also the last Dada fair. Much of the Dada art goes to the bottom of the ocean when a ship that was carrying it to America for an exhibition sinks. Wieland Herzfelde writes the outcome is entirely appropriate.
As the Weimar Republic continues its descent into fascism under Adolf Hitler, John Heartfield continues to hone his political beliefs. He joins the KPD, the German Communist Party. The KPD is the only practical political opposition to the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Party. Members of the KPD are aggressive opponents of the SPD, the other German Communist Party. The SPD supported World War I. According to the KPD, the SPD is essentially in league with the National Socialist Party, headed by Adolf Hitler.
Heartfield is one of the most vocal members of the KPD. The KPD communist party leaders do not appreciate his voice. They call his work too esoteric and bourgeois. Later in life, Heartfield says, “I was never a functionary.” Despite that, he publicly voices his opinions even after Hitler’s supporters beat him savagely and throw him from the second tier of a streetcar.
From 1916 to 1929, Heartfield’s growth as a collage artist, a graphic designer, and a political activist is unprecedented. By 1929, he is poised to experience the most productive, brilliant, and dangerous years of his career.
By 1938, his “art as a weapon” will make him number five on The Gestapo’s Most Wanted List.
Find out more by visiting the John Heartfield Chronology individual year pages.
The John Heartfield Exhibition Chronology is always growing.