David Widgery

Foreign Office blocks
anti-Nazi show

(14 September 1968)

From Socialist Worker, No. 88, 14 September 1968, p. 1.
Transcribed and marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THE FIRST BRITISH exhibition of the posters and photomontages of Johnny Heartsfield [1], whose art put him on the Nazi death list, has been blocked by the Foreign Office.

Although difficulties had arisen in the planning stages of the show, the FO has used the invasion of Czechoslovakia to introduce a secret and selective package of cultural sanctions which blacklists Heartsfield. Two weeks ago the Tory boss of Camden Council, Councillor Geoffrey Finsberg, used his “indignation at the invasion of Czechoslovakia” to personally [text missing] cil has been told by the FO that they will not allow Heartsfield’s agitational political art for exhibition in any site in England.

Meanwhile the Soviet State Orchestra continues its British tour untroubled and the Red Army songsters will arrive this month.


Heartsfield, whose real name was Helmut Herzfeld, adopted an English name as part of his life-long rejection of German nationalism. He avoided conscription in the first war by pretending to be mad and then went on to edit several anti-war satirical magazines from secret addresses.

In collaboration with the [text missing] cartoon making. His technical inventiveness in this period made him a major figure in art history.

After escaping Hitler, Heartsfield lived in England where he experienced British political cartooning, British satirical cabaret and British detention camps. The last 15 years of his life were in Ulbricht’s East Germany where his art was overlooked by the cultural apparatus men.

Unable to find a publisher in East Germany who would recognise socialist art when he saw it, a deeply dissatisfied Heartsfield worked mainly in theatre design. The cultural smog cleared a little towards the end of his life and the East Germans felt safe to make [text missing]

Today Heartsfleld’s revolutionary work finds authentic echo in the posters of the People’s Studio which was founded during the May revolution in France and which has found a footing in England among the group around Agit Prop.

Despite the Foreign Office ban, Heartsfield’s work and its living tradition remain proof that art can be realist, popular and genuinely political, without painting soup cans or power stations.


Note by ETOL

1. The artist’s pseudonym is John Heartfield, not Heartsfield.

Last updated on 22 October 2020