John Heartfield, a versatile and prolific artist, was born Helmut Herzfelde in Berlin in 1891. At the tender age of seven he lost both parents. In 1905-06 he served an apprenticeship as a bookseller in Wiesbaden before going to Munich to study at the "Kunstgewerbeschule" from 1908 to 1911. After a brief interval as a graphic artist in Mannheim, Helmut Herzfelde returned to Berlin. There he studied once again, at the "Kunst- und Handwerkerschule", until 1914, when the first world war broke out. In 1915-16 he was inducted for active service into the German armed forces. In 1916 Helmut Herzfelde was so incensed at the anti-British feeling in Germany that he protested by changing his name to John Heartfield, using this pseudonym for the rest of his career. That same year, 1916, John Heartfield and his brother founded the Malik Verlag publishing house in Berlin; John Heartfield was responsible for the graphics for its publications.
In 1917 John Heartfield became a follower of the Dada movement in Berlin and that same year he joined the German Communist Party (KPD). He met George Grosz, who, like Heartfield, worked for the leftwing satirical publications "Die Pleite" and "Der Knüppel".
From 1924 to 1933 John Heartfield designed illustrations for the "Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung", the Communist Party mouthpiece.
John Heartfield developed an experimental approach to the graphic arts. He often worked with photomontage, using the medium to create pictures that made extraordinarily powerful statements. Under the influence of George Grosz, John Heartfield went on from there to develop the political photomontage. From 1920 John Heartfield designed his first stage sets for Erwin Piscator and Max Reinhardt. In 1929 Heartfield contributed photomontages to Kurt Tucholsky's "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles".
In 1933 John Heartfield went into exile in Prague. In 1938 he reached London, where among other things he designed book covers for Penguin Books. Returning to Germany in 1950, John Heartfield designed stage sets, working for Bertold Brecht and other directors.