Adolf the Superman swallows gold and spouts rubbish
John Heartfield - Photomontage 1932

1916 Helmut Herzfeld changed his name to John Heartfield in order to protest the anti-British hate campaign raging through Germany. Though Heartfield was not an Expressionist painter, he frequented their circles and exhibited his photomontage works at the Novembergruppe exhibition in Berlin, 1929.

More importantly, the Expressionist painters knew of and admired the influential Heartfield, who had almost single handedly invented and refined the new art of photomontage.

Like many of his contemporaries Heartfield was a member of the German Communist Party (KPD), and by late 1933 hundreds of his anti-Nazi montage works had appeared in the popular left-wing magazine Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (Workers Illustrated Newspaper). Pictured here is one such work, titled; Adolf der Ubermensch, schluckt Gold und redet Blech (Adolf the Superman swallows gold and spouts rubbish).

With this photomontage the artist wished to expose the contradiction between Adolf Hitler's anti-capitalist rhetoric and his pro-capitalist practices. The illustration of the Nazi leader appears as an x-ray, showing clearly the gold coins dropped into the demagogue's mouth by rich industrialists, bankers, arms manufacturers, and other big capitalists. Germany's wealthy classes saw in Hitler a savior who would not only reap them enormous profits but would also help them destroy the militant workers movement and contain the 'threat' of the Soviet Union.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Heartfield's apartment was occupied by fascist soldiers and the artist escaped to Prague. A year later the Nazis deprived the artist of German citizenship and demanded that Heartfield be extradited back to Germany. Heartfield wisely fled to London England where he lived in exile until returning to Germany in 1950. Heartfield never stopped producing his art, nor did he loose his optimism. In exile he worked feverishly to create works attacking fascism and he enjoyed much celebrity in England. Eventually he resettled in East Germany where he continued to use photomontage as a form of social criticism. John Heartfield died in East Germany in 1968, but he left behind a huge body of work.

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