Monday, June 10, 2013

Ludwig Hohlwein: Poster Illustration Master

Ludwig Hohlwein (1874-1949) in my opinion was one of the greatest poster illustrators, ever. He also was one of the better poster designers of the first half of the 20th century, though in this respect he was outshone by the likes of A.M. Cassandre and others.

Hohlwein had a distinctive style, usually using the notoriously difficult (for me, anyway) watercolor medium often in flat, overlapping areas to build up images.

The quality of his work was such that his political leanings are usually ignored or downplayed by writers and critics. Critics are more likely to bring up the politics of leftist German artists such as George Grosz and John Heartfield, though seldom in a negative way. With Hohlwein, negativity would be easy to introduce, yet his work was so good that, like the case of fashion designer Coco Chanel, his views and activities are viewed with a blind eye. For example, this politically liberal artist/blogger simply enthuses about how good an artist Hohlwein was.

And what was Hohlwein's political dark side? Well, you see, he was a Nazi. A member of the party once Hitler took over Germany in 1933. Before that, he created posters in support of the Kaiser's war effort. After the Great War he did posters supporting the anti-leftist Stahlhelm (steel helmet) paramilitary organization. However, it should be noted that his political posters were "positive" in that they supported the regime without negative depictions of the regime's enemies. In other words, so far as I know, Hohlwein never created an antisemitic poster. Grosz and Heartfield, on the other hand, went to great lengths to do negative portrayals of what they despised rather than showing the presumed positive joys of a risen proletariat.

The most detailed biographical information I could find on the Web is here. And his German Wikipedia entry mentions that he was forbidden to pursue his profession until February 1946, about nine months after Germany's defeat in World War 2. So presumably the Allies noted his general support of the Hitler regime, but could find no direct connection to its negative deeds.

I begin the examples of Hohlwein's work, below, with a few of his regime-supporting works to show what they looked like. Then I include a number of the posters he made for advertisers, these being what gained him his fame.


This encourages youth to join the Stahlhelm youth organization.

Advertising the Union of German Maidens, an arm of the Hitler Youth.

The lower red caption asserts "We are those who guarantee the future."

A 1912 poster for Audi automobiles. Around this time Hohlwein included large patterned areas in some of his posters.  Also note the Coles Phillips color dropout style.

Advertising gentlemens' clothing. Note Hohlwein's artistic license where the two men are lighted from opposite directions.

A coffee ad.

One of Hohlwein's best-known posters, this for Casanova cigarettes. Note the way the woman's face is rendered.

For a fashion event.

High-fashion perfume.

"Summer in Germany means splendid holidays!"

Advertising sport hats.

Urging women to wear jewelry.


dearieme said...

Did you know that Grosz's son Marty is an accomplished American jazz guitarist? I can guess his pronunciation of his name from the name of one of his bands: Marty Grosz and Destiny's Tots.

Here he is

Donald Pittenger said...

dearieme -- Actually, Grosz' original name was Gross (perhaps with a German double-S in the spelling), and pronounced as spelled. By the same token, Heartfield originally was Hertzfeld. They changed their names as a political gesture of some kind.

dearieme said...

"pronounced as spelled": pronounced by whom?

And is that "gross" as in teenspeak, or as in a dozen dozens?

Donald Pittenger said...

dearieme -- I probably should have pinned this down better. Here in the States, "Gross" would be pronounced with a long O. That is, like "no," "oh" and so forth. I've never heard the word pronounced with a short O, but it's a wide world out there.

By the way, this is why those idealistic proposals I used to read when young that urged phonetic spelling of English to replace the (admittedly) odd spelling found in the language were mistaken. In Britain and the USA alone there are plenty of regional accents -- which to choose to serve as the spelling basis? In England, it might be BBC English (though Scots and Yorkshiremen might object a wee bit). In the USA, there's a pretty standard radio or TV announcer accent, but it's not well aligned with the BBC standard. So the ideal met the real and the real won (so far).