Artist of the People: John Heartfield

(Künstler des Volkes)

GDR, 1959, 17 min, b&w
In German; English subtitles
Music (Score)


A celebration of the important graphic artist John Heartfield (1891-1968) that covers the main phases of his life and is interspersed with images of the artist’s key works. During the Weimar Republic, Heartfield became famous in Germany and abroad for political photomontages, which were satirical and powerful calls for fights against inequality and fascism. His captivating works appeared in leftwing satirical magazines, as well as the Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (the Worker’s Illustrated Newspaper). He also designed book jackets for the Malik publishing house, which he co-founded with his brother, Wieland Herzfelde. On the Gestapo’s most-wanted list, Heartfield escaped from Nazi Germany in 1933 and went to Prague before settling in England. In 1950, he moved back to Germany and chose to live in the GDR.  


This 1959 documentary represents a significant historic document reflecting the East German art and political scene of the 1950s. It notably excludes critical facts about Heartfield’s life and work, avoiding his important role as a co-founder of the 1920s Berlin DaDa movement, as avant-garde art was rejected under the precepts of Socialist Realism and in the formalism debate of the 1950s. The film also does not mention the political and artistic difficulties he faced in the GDR as an exile returning from the West. Officials suspected him of being a spy and denied him membership in the GDR’s Academy of Arts—a situation that was not reversed until 1956, after interventions by the playwright Bertolt Brecht and author Stefan Heym.

Heartfield’s extensive estate is now housed at the German Academy of Arts and can be seen online here: Also see for more information. 



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