Ludwig Hohlwein, Master Designer


While rummaging through the studio bookshelves, I met an old friend: Ludwig Hohlwein, a collection of the poster designs by the artist published in Berlin in 1926. Just seeing the binding made me realize how much Hohlwein’s work affected my interest in graphic design and vintage advertising. I picked the book up from Irving Oaklander, the rare bookseller who passed away in 2012. It’s one of the most lusciously illustrated volumes you’ll ever see, mainly because Hohlwein’s work is incomparable. I’d known Hohlwein’s work from the time I was a kid. I was fortunate enough to have been raised by two parents that were endlessly creative and we were all surrounded by different sorts of artwork as I grew up. Many of the images and designs have stuck with me and have influenced both the work I do and the sorts of things I find graphically exciting. I have become somewhat of an authority on the series of posters produced in the 1920’s by the Insull Utilities in Chicago. My interest in this incomparable 10 year campaign stems directly from my admiration for the work done by the London Underground and the work of Ludwig Hohlwien. Needless to say, when the book became available, I grabbed it up!

One important note I have to make regarding Hohlwein’s later commissions during the 1930-40’s, is his work for the Nazi party. There’s no denying his party affiliation — he even turned down an offer to emigrate to the United States in 1931. If you’re not familiar with his work, this may be a large part of the reason. I will say however, as far as I know, none of his pro-Nazi posters were antisemitic in imagery or disparaging towards the “enemies” of Germany.

My introduction to Hohlwein’s work was through a WWI poster that hung in our house and that he designed to promote relief for the wounded.


hohlw007Max Gallo’s 1974 edition of “The Poster In History” reprints a section of the Hohlwein war relief poster but curiously credits it as “anonymous.” Had the entire, original image been referenced, this glaring error would have obviously been avoided…


The book…


… consists of 224 pages, with images printed in sepia and full color. The sepia “rotogravure-looking” images are on light weight glossy paper, with the full color lithographed reproductions are printed on heavy stock.

hohlwein001Herr Ludwig Hohlwein 1874-1949

The (Select) Plates

hohlwein003hohlwein004The images above and below show how both the designer and printer/lithographer would work in tandem, They had to collaborate to develop techniques that would add texture and gradation, and simulate the look of mediums like gouache and watercolor that the designer had used to render their original designs . A brilliant printer was a must because they were the ones who had to interpret/translate the artist’s original artwork into a process that could be produced in quantity.

hohlwein005hohlwein006hohlwein007hohlwein008hohlwein009hohlwein010hohlwein011hohlwein012hohlwein013hohlwein014hohlwein015hohlwein016hohlwein017hohlwein018hohlwein019hohlwein020Hohlwein depicts himself in this piece above.

hohlwein021hohlwein022hohlwein023hohlwein024hohlwein025hohlwein026The above image is reminiscent of his famous WWI “Und Du?” recruitment poster, below.



…The End.

Gebrauchsgraphik was the preeminent advertising art magazine in Europe and is a beautifully produced journal of design and technique. Hohlwein garnered a focus on his 60th birthday in 1934.


In their periodical, “Inspirations For Printers” #98/1936, the West Virginia Pulp & Paper Company (Westvaco) included the Ludwig Hohlwein book in a photo scene used on the cover. “Inspirations For Printers” was a regular collection of celebrated current printing and production techniques. It’s certainly a testament to Hohlwein’s graphic arts status for his book to receive a playful focus like this. (I’ll be doing a feature for Imprint on this Westvaco series soon!)

westvaco cover 019Hohlwein began his career focusing on architecture and later (1906) transitioned into poster design but his talents flowed into other areas as well…

Poster stamp…poster stamps…

stein…beer steins…

hohlw003…stained glass…

hohlw004hohlw005…and ceramic tiles.

hohlw001Here’s the graphic evolution of Hohlwein’s distinctive logo.

In his book “The Left Handed Designer” (1985 Harry N. Abrams, Inc. publisher), Seymour Chwast reflects upon the influence Hohlwein has had on his work:

hohlwein chwast011

Chwast (1)It was specifically the design sensibility below that Seymour was referring to…

Hohlwein quadFinally, I was on vacation in Yellowstone National Park several years ago and noticed a framed poster above the hearth in the main lodge.

hohlwein yellowstone010From a distance I had my suspicions, and upon getting close enough to see the Hohlwein logo in the upper left, they were confirmed.

586475_1_lThis is the only poster and/or ad by him that I know of that’s exclusively American.

If you’re interested in design history, check out these titles from MyDesignShop:

5 thoughts on “Ludwig Hohlwein, Master Designer

  1. artistsurfer

    How do you separate the work from the man, Hohlwein joined the NAZI party in 1933 and helped perpetuate the propaganda campaign which contributed to the deaths of 60,000,000 people. Does it matter?

  2. WammackDesign

    GREAT piece on Hohlwein–thank you. And congratulations on snagging the monograph; it’s fairly rare, as it’s often chopped up so that pages can be sold individually (most of the “posters” seen for sale on eBay). Looks like you’ve also got a copy of the excellent Ludwig Hohlwein: Kunstgewerbe und Reklamekunst (Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1996), which accompanied the Munich retrospective. Nice.

    Hohlwein’s most commonly seen work here in the U.S. might be his Franciscan friar label for Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier. Suitable for toasting the artist.