Untitled Abstract Composition with Orange, Blue and Grey) c1950 19.9 x 28.6 cm
The University of Melbourne Art Collection – Gift of Mrs Olive Hirschfeld

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack (1893-1965)

A highly skilled innovator and adept educator, Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack began crafting his experience with materials and form in the leather good’s factory of his father near Frankfurt am Main. He initiated his formative artistic training at the Teaching and Experimental Studios for Applied and Free Art of Hermann Obrist and Wilhelm von Debschitz in Munich from 1912, while also enrolling at the University to study the History of Art under Heinrich Wölfflin and Fritz Burger. After serving with distinction in the First World War, he attended the Stuttgart Art Academy in 1919 to undertake Adolf Hölzel’s master class devoted to colour theory (Farbtheoretiker). Later that same year he enrolled at the Weimar Bauhaus where he studied under some of the foremost artists in Germany, completing Johannes Itten’s Preliminary Course while being signed on as an apprentice to Lyonel Feininger in the Printing Workshop. Working closely with Feininger until 1926, Hirschfeld-Mack concentrated on the practical application of Paul Klee’s visual theories, presenting supplementary seminars about his own attempts to capture the dynamic and rhythmic qualities of colours. These early Bauhaus experiments found expression in a didactic spinning top that demonstrated the optical mixing of colour upon a set of coloured plates (Farbenkreisel). His most notable achievement at the Bauhaus was the development of the Colour Light Plays (Farbenlichtspiele), where Hirschfeld-Mack built and operated a complex apparatus that projected light compositions though mechanical templates, in accompaniment to his own musical scores. Music gave form and rhythm to the abstract light constructions, as if painting with light, the performances synthesized an experience of immaterial, abstract moving images to sound, without any reference to the visible world.

After leaving the Bauhaus in Weimar he accepted various teachings positions between 1930 and 1935, further applying the progressive educational ideals in relation to colour theory and its practical form in music and crafts. With the rise of the Nazi regime Hirschfeld-Mack emigrated to London where he was able to teach in various schools, working on the Colour Chord Harp and many other musical instruments and didactic toys, also developing his Colour Light Plays for application in theatres, cinemas, and dance halls. Considered an enemy alien by 1940, he left Britain to Australia aboard the Dunera, where after internment at Hay, Orange and Tatura, he was released through the efforts of Dr James Darling to become art master at Geelong Church of England Grammar School, where he remained until his retirement in 1957. In pursuit of new functional forms for our aesthetic needs, Hirschfeld-Mack aimed to reconcile the artist and the machine through a return to the fundamentals of material and design. Starting with the simplest tools and least complicated jobs, the process of making art and being the artist were seen as conjunctive and inseparable from every day life. This core of the Bauhaus curriculum was to be highly influential in Australia, where the workshop model introduced to Geelong Grammar was later to be adopted more broadly by art schools around Australia, including the Canberra School of Art.

 Compiled by Oscar Capezio

Updated:  12 August 2014/ Responsible Officer:  DHG Director/ Page Contact:  Drill Hall Gallery