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 began at the Berlin Dada scene, and the Communist Party of
Germany. 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, who was to have an influence on his art,
Heartfield developed photomontage into a form of political and artistic
representation. 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.
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. 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
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.
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