John Heartfield

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John Heartfield (19 June 1891, Berlin – 26 April 1968, East Berlin) is the anglicized name of the German photomontage artist Helmut Herzfeld. He chose to call himself Heartfield in 1916, to criticize the rabid nationalism and anti-British sentiment prevalent in Germany during World War I.



In 1918 Heartfield joined the Berlin Dada club and the Communist Party of Germany.[1] He would turn out to be highly active in the Dada movement, organizing the First International Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920.[2] In 1919, he was dismissed from the Reichswehr film service on account of his support for the strike that followed the assassination of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. With George Grosz, he founded Die Pleite, a satirical magazine. After meeting Bertolt Brecht in 1924, who was to have an influence on his art, Heartfield developed photomontage into a form of political and artistic expression. He worked for two communist publications: the daily Die Rote Fahne and the weekly Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ), the latter of which published the works for which Heartfield is best remembered.[3]

In 1933, after the National Socialists came to power in Germany, Heartfield relocated to Czechoslovakia, where he continued his photomontage work for the AIZ (which was published in exile); in 1938, fearing a German takeover of his host country, he left for England, living in Hampstead.[4] He settled in East Germany and Berlin after World War II, in 1954, and worked closely with theater directors such as Benno Besson and Wolfgang Langhoff at Berliner Ensemble and Deutsches Theater.

In 1967 he visited Britain and began preparing a retrospective exhibition of his work, "photomontages", which was subsequently completed by his widow Gertrude and the Deutsche Akademie der Künste, and shown at the ICA in London in 1969.

In 2005, Tate Britain held an exhibition of his photomontage pieces.


His photomontages satirising Adolf Hitler and the Nazis often subverted Nazi symbols such as the swastika in order to undermine their propaganda message.

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