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John Heartfield: Profile in Collage

– Posted in: Aesthetics Articles Collage & Montage Creativity Dadaism Inspiration Masters of Collage

John Heartfield (born Helmut Herzfeld in Berlin, Germany, 1891; died in East Berlin, 1968) pioneered the use of photomontage as savage political satire. He joined both the Dada Movement and the German branch of the Communist Party during the First World War, and continued to make political and propaganda art (in the form of stage sets and poster designs) for the rest of his life.

One of Heartfield’s most famous photomontages showed the head of Adolf Hitler montaged onto the neck of an x-rayed torso, in which the esophagus is a stack of coins and the stomach is filled with more coins, while a swastika perches in the position of the heart (its title is Adolph the Superman, Swallows Gold and Spouts Tin). Appearing in the early 1930s, Heartfield’s anti-Nazi photomontages nearly led to his arrest by the Nazis; he escaped to Prague, and later to England, but returned to Germany permanently in the 1950s.

In contrast to the collage styles of many of his fellow Dadaists, Heartfield’s style of montage never fully became irrational and abstract; satiric humor, political logic, and the class struggle motivated and determined the subject matter of his collages.

John Heartfield: collage, early 1920s

First International Dada Fair, Berlin 1920. Heartfield appears to the right, standing behind his friend George Grosz (in hat, and carrying cane). Hanging from the ceiling is Heartfield’s pig-headed soldier effigy, bearing a sign saying “I come from Heaven.”

8 Comments… add one

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8 comments… add one
Mrs. Neutron December 19, 2010, 9:45 pm

Hi Eric. I enjoyed your writing and I like your work.
I noticed you have Jonathan Talbot listed in your Blog Roll. He is a very old and valued friend. You can blame him for the mess I make.
Got an E-mail from you… [You have been invited to add your website to the WebRing Community “Collage and Assemblage”.] What’s up with that? Is it on the up & up, or are they Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses attempting to weasel their way around my defenses?
Can’t be too careful Eric
Respectfully yours
Mrs. N

Eric Edelman December 19, 2010, 11:47 pm

Hi Mrs. N,

Thanks very much for your kind comments. Yes, I have listed Jonathan Talbot because I deeply respect him and like his artwork. I also appreciate his contributions to the collage “community” at large. Jonathan and I both showed work in the same exhibition, at the Philoctetes Center in New York City earlier this year (

The e-mail inviting you to join the Collage and Assemblage WebRing is completely legitimate, have no fear. I started the WebRing to reach out to other serious collagists & assembleurs and to get my own artwork and writing on collage out there (i.e. onto the Web). The WebRing is entirely non-sectarian in administration, and is part of no proselytizing or religious organization, sect, or community (although some of the participating artists may find their inspirations or subject matter within religion). The WebRing’s mission is solely to make the artform of collage more available to artists & art-lovers. I am vetting the Ring very tightly to avoid those with ulterior motives.

Thanks again for your interest!


Eric Edelman

Ray August 24, 2011, 6:51 pm

Hi Eric,
You have stirred my emotions and made me think. That is a good thing, yet I’m not at all sure what I think or how I feel about your work. It sort of draws me in with a curious mixture of uncertainty and interest.

Interestingly the content has more impact than the presentation which is extremely well done.

Eric Edelman August 24, 2011, 7:28 pm

Thanks very much for your comment and your visit, Ray! I’m very interested in what you have to say, not only about my work but about the collages of others as well. I hope that we can continue this dialogue about collage.

Ann Glenister October 11, 2011, 7:47 am

Hi Eric,
Many years ago – I think it was the 80’s – I saw an photo montage exhibition of the work of the English artist David Hockney. He would use an instant camera to take lots of photographs of a scene from different perspectives and then join them together in a most artful way. I did try to imitate his technique but it was very difficult to produce a successful result. Thanks for your blog. It has inspired me to try again! Ann

Eric Edelman October 11, 2011, 6:56 pm

Thanks very much for your kind words, Ann! Hockney’s work in photomontage is indeed interesting. Also fascinating is the photo-collage work of the Greek-American artist Lucas Samaras, who manipulates the chemistry of many of the photographs he takes. (As an idle speculation, I wonder how — or if — the experience of being immigrants to America helped form the the collage techniques and philosophy of Hockney from the U.K. and Samaras from Greece.)

I have a suggestion to offer about making collages from multiple photos: I’ve used Shape Collage Pro Commercial (v. 2.5.3) to help simplify this task, and I find it offers a lot of options and controls, and it’s very inexpensive (less than $50); they also offer a free version with somewhat fewer options. (Please visit for details.)

Good for you for getting back to collage. Please keep in touch with us; we’d love to see your work when you’re ready to post it!

Gabrielle August 2, 2013, 12:26 am

Hi Eric,

Your written work is very inspiring. Nowadays, photo montages can be easily made because of the fast-paced technology. But, you have showed us that it has been a part of history, like others which are now taken for granted, in the likeness of John Heartfield. Thank you for sharing a piece of your knowledge. I’m opting to read more of your articles.

Eric Edelman August 2, 2013, 1:11 am

Thank you very much, Gabrielle! I appreciate your kind words, and I look forward to your future visits to Art of RetroCollage. I’m hoping to publish more “Profiles in Collage” soon.

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