Ludwig Hohlwein (1874-1949) was a pioneer of the German Sachplakat style, an early 1900s aesthetic movement that dispensed with Art Nouveau ornamentation in favor of simple backgrounds, flat colors, striking typography, and geometric compositions. He trained as an architect in Munich before moving to Berlin in 1911 to focus on poster design; by 1925, he had already created 3,000 advertising designs. His work combines stark realistic figures with playful compositions, a saturated color palette, and an offbeat sense of whimsy.
This is the only known copy of Hohlwein’s triumphant introduction to the 1914 Mercedes 28/95. This artwork does not appear in any book of Germany’s most famous posterist; we do not know of another copy in any collection the world over. For Mercedes’ most exclusive, most powerful auto model of 1914, Hohlwein took the cabriolet’s top down, allowing our eyes to rise from the form of the car to the craggy, sublime Alps to which the driver is pointing: “Up there! We shall take it up there!” It’s a clever allusion to the 28/95’s innovative engine, with its overhead camshaft and valves arranged in a V-position—a design copied from the Daimler DF-80 aircraft engine. While Hohlwein created two other Mercedes ads in 1914 (for different models), the outbreak of the Great War sharply curtailed production of the 28/95 and, we suspect, suspended distribution of Hohlwein’s poster. It’s quite possibly unique.
If forced to choose the most representative, classic Hohlwein design, this one for the men’s clothier, PKZ, would be the immediate choice. It perfectly exemplifies his simplified, wallpaper-style application of pattern to complex shapes (like people), the elimination of unnecessary details and features, the flat colors. the carrying of the background color into foreground figures and text, and the virtuoso drawing. “He utilized patter to great effect in these works [for PKZ], imposing broad areas of flat pinstripe or square grid to define the dapper clothes of the models. At the same time, certain elements are rendered three-dimensionally by means of shadows and highlights, creating a tension between flatness and depth” (Modern Poster, p. 18).
This poster for a jewelry store (noted as “purveyors to the court”) has a dachshund on a platter holding a miniature top hat in its teeth. It has a lovely girl with beautiful shoulders, in a pearl choker, holding up a jewel box. But you may not notice either of these things at first because Hohlwein’s checkerboard pattern palpably vibrates—an optical illusion that totally arrests one’s vision. This was a favorite design ploy: Hohlwein “added a new dimension through his use of bold patterns, rendered with complete disregard for the forms they were supposed to be covering” (Word & Image, p. 21).
In this unusual Hohlwein design, a yelling salesman with a distorted face calls passersby to attend the Leipzig trade fair, which appears to have been an annual event until World War II.
Similar in tone to the previous poster, Hohlwein this time employs a photorealistic image of a screaming proletariat to announce a poster exhibition in Stuttgart.