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August 26, 2008

Munich's Master Poster Artist

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

He wasn't a professional painter. I don't even know if he painted as a hobby. So I can't call him a Peripheral Painter for that reason. Nor can I call him "peripheral" because his work is well known to poster-art buffs. On the other hand, even though New York's Museum of Modern Art has a few of his posters in its collection, his work wasn't avant-garde enough to satisfy modernist purists. That and the fact that he did posters for government agencies during Hitler's regime in Germany.

The artist in question is Ludwig Hohlwein (1874-1949) who began his studies as an architect, but made his career as a Munich-based poster artist. I haven't been able to find much biographical information about him aside from here and here. The second link is to Paul Giambarba's illustration site, which is well worth perusal.

Below are examples of Hohlwein's work. The Giambarba link has some of these as well as other examples. Many more can be seen by googling on Ludwig Hohlwein and then linking to Images.


Combination of a top poster artist and top automobile. Makes me want to dash off and buy that car. (Hope it has air conditioning, a six-speed automatic transmission, a GPS and good fuel economy.)

"Spring in Wiesbaden" seems to be a travel ad from just before or after the Great War. Hohlwein was born in Wiesbaden, which might have provided added incentive to do a really nice job.

Speaking of the Great War, this is an advertisement from early in the conflict (to judge by the helmet) for some kind of "strength and energy" confection.

A portable typewriter advertisement, probably from the 1920s. Much of Hohlwein's work, including this, seems to have been done using watercolor washes. Note the skillful portrayal of facial and other planes.

Advertising a line of mens' clothing.

Another fashion poster, but probably late in his career if the dress is any clue..

The swastika tells us this was done during World War 2. I'm not sure why Hohlwein portrays what appears to be a bare-chested man wearing a stahlhelm (steel helmet) and holding onto a pole of some sort. The caption translates literally as "air protection" or "air security" which might refer to an air warden or air defense -- though wehr might be a better word than schutz for the latter meaning.

This is a detail from a poster advertising a brand of cigarettes. I think this is an extremely skillful piece of work. My only quibble is the low spot on the hair above the forehead that seems to be too low to accommodate the likely shape of the woman's head. On the other hand, it's likely Hohlwein worked from a photo to get the facial shading, so who knows?

Oh do I wish I had Hohlwein's drawing and watercolor skills!!



posted by Donald at August 26, 2008


Damn. Those are some fine posters. I wish I could by replicas of the typewriter and clothing line one (not to mention the actual typewriter, I've a small collection of old manual typewriters).

Posted by: Spike Gomes on August 26, 2008 8:28 PM

Spike -- If you Google on Ludwig Hohlwein, lots of the returns are for poster firms offering his work.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 26, 2008 11:39 PM

That "RLB" insignia on the WWII poster made me think that it might stand for "Reichsluftschutzbund", and so it does:

From that article, you can see that it looks like they used Hohlwein's design for a postage stamp as well. (I'm assuming it was in that direction, rather than the other way around).

Posted by: Derek Lowe on August 27, 2008 1:41 PM

Holswein's paintings show an uncanny combination of painterly richness and restraint. He really understood how tone works and pushes contrasts so very skilfully. Of course the style is of its period, of elegant and opulent spareness, quite powerful. Thanks for broadening my awareness! G

Posted by: Gabriella on August 27, 2008 7:16 PM

Much more difficult - in some cases impossible - to make corrections in watercolor than in oil. Which means that for each of these posters there had to be both a thoroughly thought out "plan of attack" and then the surety of touch to carry out the plan. Impressive.

Posted by: ricpic on August 27, 2008 9:13 PM

Fabulous work. I've been collecting turn-of-the-century bicycle posters because of the art (some great stuff there, too), but I'd never seen these along the way of my poster shopping.

Posted by: Sam_S on August 27, 2008 11:59 PM

Dang, those Nazis had style!

As a lit prof of mine said, while explaining the politics of Ezra Pound, "Sorry kids, but the good guys don't have all the talent and brains."

Thanks for a very interesting and informative post.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on August 28, 2008 12:49 AM

Derek -- Thanks for the info. I had never heard of that organization. So I suppose the poster was indeed circa 1933-4. Makes sense because the helmet is Great War style and not the WW2 version which was smaller.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 28, 2008 9:32 AM

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