Primary Sources 50 stories from 50 years of the Archives

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack: Bauhaus in Victoria

Born in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1893, Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack studied art in Munich before being conscripted in World War I. From 1919 he studied at the Bauhaus, the famous German art school.

From 1942, he was art master at Geelong Grammar School. Following his retirement in 1957, he continued teaching, including at the University of Melbourne and published The Bauhaus: An introductory survey, and was invited by the Bauhaus Archive, Darmstadt, to reconstruct his colour-light apparatus.

The collections of the National Gallery of Victoria and the Ian Potter Museum of Art include pieces by Hirschfeld-Mack. The material held at UMA includes correspondence, writings, sketches and material relating to Hirschfeld-Mack's many artistic innovations and musical experiments.

It is likely that Hirschfeld-Mack first encountered the oil transfer technique in the work of Paul Klee at the Bauhaus. Hirschfeld-Mack's technique differed, however, in that the original drawing and the 'print' were one and the same — albeit on opposite sides of the same page. The process involved laying a piece of paper on top of an inked plate and drawing on it. The pressure from the pen or pencil would result in a 'printed' image on the opposite side. The line of the printed image possessed softness normally only achieved through more detailed printing processes such as lithography or etching.

An example from the collection of Joseph Burke, Professor of Fine Art, features a variation of this technique, resulting in a print of multiple 'layers'. Using a blunted pencil or stylus, and sometimes a comb, the artist could apply 'texture' to the ink on the plate prior to printing. This intervention with the ink resulted in a patterned effect in the areas where pressure was applied with the artist's fingers or heel of the hand. In this print, Hirschfeld-Mack has added a further 'layer', through the application of pressure on the reverse with an instrument similar to the teeth of a hair comb.

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