Important Australian + International Fine Art
14 September 2022


(German/Australian, 1893 - 1965)

oil on compressed card

35.5 x 49.5 cm

signed lower right: L. H. MACK
signed verso: L. H. MACK

$30,000 – $50,000
Sold for $141,136 (inc. BP) in Auction 71 - 14 September 2022, Sydney

The estate of the artist
Private collection, Italy

Catalogue text

1 LW.jpg

Ludwig Hirschfield–Mack (far left), with
Theo Bolger and Marli 
operating the apparatus during 
performance of 
Kreuzspiel, 1924
photographer: Gert Maehler

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack arrived in Australia on the HMT Dunera, disembarking in Sydney Harbour in early September 1940. It had been a long and complicated journey. Having left his wife and children in Germany some years earlier, when the rise of Nazism made finding permanent employment for someone of his Jewish heritage almost impossible, Hirschfeld-Mack was teaching in England. Following the fall of France in May 1940, he was interned as an ‘enemy alien’ and despite having been classified only a few months earlier as an ‘alien class C’ – a person who presented the lowest risk to England and the allies – he was subsequently deported as part of a program that transported internees to Australia and Canada. 

Conditions on the Dunera were poor. Drastically overcrowded, it lacked sufficient bedding, shower and toilet facilities for its more than 2,500 passengers. Exercise above deck was restricted to less than thirty minutes a day and throughout the 57-day voyage, many suffered from seasickness and other illnesses. More shockingly, the internees also endured verbal and physical abuse from the army officers onboard, as well as having the few possessions they had been allowed to take with them damaged, discarded and stolen. Their resilience and optimism in the face of adversity was remarkable. To counteract the difficulties of their situation, the passengers organised card and chess games – one of the chess sets being fashioned out of bread dough – as well as holding language classes, musical concerts and lectures on a wide range of subjects, from literature to economics and agriculture.

The diversity of these ship-board activities – which continued and expanded once the men were interned in camps in regional New South Wales and Victoria – reflected the knowledge and expertise of the internees, many of whom were highly-trained professionals, intellectuals and skilled artists and artisans. Alongside the architects, doctors, engineers, chemists, teachers and business executives on board the Dunera, were 27 artists, 9 jewellers, 30 leather workers, 12 photographers, as well as a weaver, a potter and a maker of musical instruments.2   

Hirschfeld-Mack was an artist and a teacher, and his arrival in Australia established a direct link with the Weimar Bauhaus, where he had studied from 1919 until 1925. Founded by architect, Walter Gropius, in 1919, the Bauhaus was a highly influential school whose manifesto proposed a radical challenge: ‘Let us create a new guild of craftsmen, without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist. Together let us conceive and create the new building of the future, which can embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity’.3 Hirschfeld-Mack enrolled in October 1919 and began his apprenticeship in the graphic printing workshop which was run by Paul Klee. Learning various printmaking techniques, he also mastered the use of the printing press, undertaking commercial jobs for external clients, as well as limited edition fine art printing. The Neue europäische Graphik series, which featured prints by artists including Vassily Kandinsky, Kurt Schwitters and Max Beckmann, was produced at the Bauhaus and with fellow student, Josef Albers, Hirschfeld-Mack is said to have designed, as well as printed, some of the portfolio covers.

1 LW2.jpg

Ludwig Hirschfield–Mack in his studio in
Geißlerpfad with
various artworks on
, 1934
photographer unknown

From 1920, Hirschfeld-Mack experimented with the technique of monotype, which, as the name suggests, produces a single, unique printed impression, as opposed to an edition of identical multiples. Monotypes are traditionally made by applying paint or ink to a printing plate (usually metal or glass) and then transferring the design – which appears as a mirror image of the design on the plate – to paper. Hirschfeld-Mack used a different technique, the ‘Durchdrückzeichnung’ or ‘press through drawing’, whereby the paper is laid down onto an inked surface and the image is created by drawing on the back of the sheet, the pressure of the pencil transferring ink from the plate to the paper. While Klee is known to have used a similar technique, in a letter written many years later, Hirschfeld-Mack stated that he introduced the technique to the Bauhaus, noting that ‘…Paul Klee asked me if he could use [it] for his works.’5 This influence continued during his internment in Australia and it is likely that fellow Dunera-boys, Erwin Fabian and Bruno Simon – both of whom recorded the experience of internment in powerful, sometimes harrowing monotypes – learnt the distinctive printing technique from him.6 

Produced between 1947 and the early 1960s, this group of monotypes displays the rich creative possibilities of the medium in Hirschfeld-Mack’s hands. Positive and negative linear designs are combined with areas of tone, which was achieved by applying pressure to the back of the sheet, and often highlights the texture of the papers he used. Other tools, such as a comb which created the distinctive parallel wavy lines seen in Composition, c.1962, were used to create a variety of marks and effects. Colour, generally added later, is a key element of these works, reminding us of Hirschfeld-Mack’s lifelong interest in colour and its theory, from teaching the colour seminar at the Bauhaus in 1922, to his renowned experiments with colour and music.7 According to his second wife, Olive, Hirschfeld Mack wanted to create a feeling of transparency in these works and would apply the colour slowly, revisiting the work over an extended period, each time carefully considering the effect of adding more colour.8 An important early example, Off to the Stars, 1947, which combines printing in brown ink with delicate washes of blue and pink watercolour, exemplifies his approach. Inscribed by the artist, its title too, is characteristic of the optimistic and sometimes other-worldly themes he often addressed in his art. 

Hirschfeld-Mack painted Red, Grey and Orange Composition, c.1935 in Berlin. Its bold, fragmented composition exemplifies Bauhaus abstraction, but with its striking elements of line, layering and rich textural qualities, it has a distinctive Hirschfeld-Mack inflection. The focus on pattern – parallel lines, cross-hatching and fields of dots and dashes – which is primarily achieved by drawing through areas of creamy-coloured paint (probably with the end of a paintbrush) to reveal the layer below, also creates an interesting link to the techniques adopted in his monotypes. Studio photographs from the mid-1930s show that alongside abstract works such as this, Hirschfeld-Mack was also painting figurative images during these years, and given the increasing restrictions being placed on all aspects of contemporary life by the Nazis, they represented a far safer option. Abstract art was branded ‘degenerate’ and as Hirschfeld-Mack explained, ‘Artists who experimented and followed the new abstract or near abstract trends of our time, were put on a black list, and were not permitted to draw or paint any longer. These artists had to sign a paper, that they would cease painting altogether and they were controlled by the Gestapo in ruthless house searches. If they continued painting, they were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps.’9 The historical context of this painting imbues it with particular significance. As a strong expression of abstraction made in a place and at a time when this was forbidden, it exemplifies the subversive power of art (and artists) and the critical role of creativity. As a reflection of Hirschfeld-Mack’s Bauhaus training and the artistic and intellectual milieu of which he was a part, it creates a tangible link between avant-garde European modernism and the history of twentieth century Australian art.

1. The details of Hirschfeld-Mack’s life and journey to Australia in this essay are drawn from Schwarzbauer, R. with Bell, C., Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack: More Than a Bauhaus Artist, History Smiths, Melbourne, 2021.
2. See Keaney, M., ‘Images of Displacement: Art from the Internment Camps’ in Butler, R., (ed.) The Europeans: Emigré Artists in Australia 1930-1960, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1997, p. 101
3. Cited in Schwarzbauer, op. cit., pp. 36 – 37 
4. Ibid., p. 39
5. Ibid., p. 47
6. See Keaney, op. cit., pp. 91 – 92 and Butler, R., Printed: Images by Australian Artists 1885 – 1955, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2007, p. 222
7. See McNamara, A., ‘The Bauhaus in Australia: Interdisciplinary Confluences in Modernist Practices’ in Stephen, A., Goad, P., & McNamara, A., (eds.), Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia, The Miegunyah Press, Carlton, 2008, pp. 12 – 13
8. Hazel de Berg, interviews with Olive Hirschfeld, 8 December 1965, National Library of Australia