Ludwig Hohlwein was born on July 26, 1874 in Wiesbaden, Germany and enjoyed a privileged childhood in a prominent family.
While studying architecture at the Technical University in Munich from 1895 onwards, he made his first illustrations for the newspaper of the Academic Architects Association. He designed the association’s program booklets, invitations and book decorations.
After his studies in Munich and at the Dresden Academy he undertook study trips to London and Paris. Eventually he settled in Munich as an architect. In addition to the interiors of private homes, he took orders for decorating ocean liners.
In 1901 Ludwig married Leoni Dorr. They had two children. In this period he regularly takes part in exhibitions with his prints, watercolors and tempera paintings in the Munich Glass Palace. He developed his unique style early on in his career which showed little changes over the next forty years.
Hohlwein left architecture and started focusing on graphic design in 1906. He began as a poster artist, building up a self-taught style which was primarily influenced by the collage technique of the British Beggarstaff Brothers. He was very productive and quickly gained name and fame in the world of graphics and among important clients.
Accelerating industrialization in the first decade of the twentieth century turned Germany into a fertile ground for the orientation of art towards industry. The combination of industry and art gets an ideal testing ground in the design of company posters and product advertisements.
With Art Nouveau we entered the early modern period rebelling against what is Victorian excess. In the German “plakatstil” (or poster-style) all ornaments and embellishments are further omitted. The simplification is even more extensive, leaving only taut lines. This leaves us with recognizable pictorial references and a persuasive communication, a style consistent with the commercial and technological demands of the age. This new type of poster soon became far-famed.
Ludwig Hohlwein in the southern city of Munich and Lucian Bernhard in the northern city of Berlin quickly became the leaders of this ‘Plakatstil’. Between both World Wars Hohlwein enjoyed great popularity. By 1925, he had already designed 3000 different advertisements and had become one of the best-known German commercial artist of his time.
In 1923 a New York exhibition of his posters introduced him to the advertising industry in the United States, which earned him commissions for Camel and Fatima Cigarettes. But given the competition he never achieved the same fame in the USA as he did in Germany.
The complex play of light and shade suggests that Hohlwein based his paintings on photographs. During these days illustrators often relied on photographs to record facial expressions, precise movements and gestures, patterns and textures in clothing and décor.
"He first prepares a drawing which follows nature faithfully, sometimes making use of photographic studies to this end. And only after these preliminary sketches does he proceed to evolve a decorative design as a basis for the work at hand." — Professor H.K. Frenzel
He had a signature style of applying colors, letting them dry at different times, and printing one on top of the other, producing modulations of shading* The subject seems to be reduced to coloured surfaces and points, a network of interlocking shapes in a vivid and elegant pallet of colours. Ludwig Hohlein plays with only a few elements, light and dark, foreground and background in his rather sober compositions.
Although the image was always the dominating element, he did not lose sight of his lettering. He used both serif, sans-serif and gothic typefaces, matching them to the subject he depicted. His typography was always readable and grouped in a few lines, often forming a square.
Hohlwein's signature appeared on most of his work. The two diagonal lines which run from the 'ü' in the word München connect his hometown to his name.
He produced posters for Audi, Bahlsen, BMW, Daimler Benz, Erdal, Ernemann, Görtz Shoes, Kaffee Hag, Kulmbach, Leitz, Lufthansa, Marklin, MAN and Henkel. His images show an optimistic view on contemporary middle-class life.
Over time he gained fame and fortune, and his creations began to serve different needs than merely the promotion of products. He turned his expertise to making billboards for the war effort, accepting commissions from the Nazi regime. He designed posters for the NSDAP, the Nazi People's Welfare, the Winter Relief Fund, the air raid, and for the 1936 Olympic Games.
In 1931 he refused the offer to emigrate to the United States. Instead Hohlwein joined the Nazi party in 1933.
After WWII he continued his work as a commercial artist in a small studio in Berchtesgarden until his death on September 15, 1949.