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. 

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