Flames Descending Into Darkness: Richard-Paul Lohse and Rosa Luxemburg

This dust jacket, designed by Richard Paul Lohse, is probably my favorite example of book design from the 1930’s – a remarkable example of storytelling through form.

It was created for the first German translation of a work which had originally appeared in Dutch two years prior. The poet and socialist Roland-Holst was a close friend of Luxemburg. Following the ascent of the Nazi party, it was almost impossible to publish books with a socialist or pacifist attitude in Germany, and many such German language books were published in Switzerland, as with this title. Jean-Christophe Verlag was a publishing house closely allied with the Buchergilde Gutenberg, famous for publishing B. Traven. (See here for an earlier post on the flight of that press from Germany).

 

 

This shift allowed the Swiss designer Richard Paul Lohse to work on a variety of socialist books, including this title, which features one of the most striking and enduring dust jackets of the 1930’s. The front is graced with a photograph of Luxemburg; the rear panel reproduces a letter from Luxemburg to the author. The two panels are linked by a photomontage of marching socialists which begins on the back panel and marches downward to disappear into darkness on the spine, but not before coloring the word “Rosa” rose – a striking link between meaning and form. The procession ascends again at the front panel to burst into stark relief against Luxemburg’s blouse, the flags seeming to burst into flames.

 

We’re grateful for Felix Wiedler’s excellent book design blog, where we first learned about this work.

Roland-Holst, Henriette [Lohse, Richard Paul]. Rosa Luxemburg: Ihre Leben und Wirken. Zurich: Jean-Christophe Verlag, 1937. First edition. 8vo, 223 pp, bound in dove grey cloth printed in blue; illustrated dust jacket. Inquire. 

The Archive of Camofleur

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16. Ellison, J. Milford [1909-1993]. Archive of Photographs Relating to a Camoufleur

Np: c. 1930’2-1940’s. Approximately 143 photographs, most mounted onto black paper- a few with captions – along with 15 other items of ephemera, including announcements for exhibitions, news articles, three items of correspondence and restricted army orders, all housed in four manila folders. A number of the photographs have fallen from their mounts, and the black paper the remainder are mounted onto is chipped and creased at extremities, but condition is otherwise generally very good.

 

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In a 1980 interview by Paul and Rita Kress which is hosted on the San Diego State University website, Ellison detailed his career as an artist. Ellison was born in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1909. He studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the Chouinard Art School, and afterwards moved to California where he taught and exhibited in the seceding decades.

During WWII Ellison was drafted, but was excused as he was overweight. He saw an ad for a meeting about becoming a Camofleur in Los Angeles. In 1944 Ellison went over to England to do camouflage work in the field, including camouflaging eight fields in southern England prior to D Day. Subsequently Ellison was sent back to London where he was an an instructor in the mines and booby traps school. After four weeks Ellison was sent to France and Belgium, where he worked to camouflage fields and worked on paintings in his spare time, which culminated in a 1945 exhibition at the La Jolla Fine Arts Gallery and the La Jolla Museum of Art.

This collection consists of four folders, the bulk of which are taken up with photographs tipped onto blank album paper.  along with assorted ephemera from Ellison’s career, including orders. Approximately half the photographs pertain to the camouflage work, including photographs of camouflage in the field and the designing and manufacturing of camouflage, aerial views, photographs of restricted camouflage test areas.

The nature of camouflage is to elude recognition, making photography of them a paradoxical act. The photographs derive an odd and lasting power from the degree to which they deceive the viewer or not, or in the manner in which the facade of invisibility is constructed. The most confusing of the photographs are of a camouflage testing area, in which no camouflage seems apparent, even on close gaze, and the power resides in knowing the context –  that there is a camouflaged object within view.  To confuse the gaze further, some of the photographs are obviously model constructions, perhaps test dioramas which are eerily similar to doll houses.

An interesting chapter of the longer story of fine artists working in the field of Camouflage beginning with WWI – a distinguished lineage which included the surrealist Roland Penrose and numerous Australian artists. $2500

 

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