Category Archives: Illustrators

Remarks and info about artists


We are thrilled with this post. For years we couldn’t find any information on the illustrator Wolfgang Ortmann (1885-1969). But here it is: the first sketch of his life and work.

Illustration by Wolfgang Ortmann for 'Mort d'Amour',
Illustration by Wolfgang Ortmann for ‘Mort d’Amour’, Valse Boston by Robert Stolz (Berlin, 1922)

The covers by the German illustrator Wolfgang Ortmann carry his trademark: a wavy signature above a single small star. His drawings are bold, with a dynamic composition and imaginative colours.


Ortmann doesn’t hesitate to use black and dark shadows to add a touch of drama. His images reflect the Roaring Twenties in Germany: ladies with bobbed haircuts (Bubikopf), heavy mascara, hairbands, cocktail dresses or fur, and elegant (older) men in evening dress. We are witnesses of nightlife scenes in cabarets, intimate bars, parties with jazz and champagne, theatre loggias, dark alcoves and shadowy staircases.

sheet music covers illustrated by Wolfgang Ortmann
A selection of sheet music covers illustrated by W. Ortmann (ca. 1919-1924)

Many of his covers illustrate popular exotic themes and oriental cliché fantasies.

Exotic and Orient-inspired cover illustrations by W. Ortmann (ca. 1919-1924)

Finally, the essence of Ortmann’s covers is every so often sexual. His illustrations for many foxtrots and lieder breathe seduction, temptation, passion, flirtation, swooning and sensual ecstasy.

Sensual covers of sheet music, illustrated by W. Ortmann (ca. 1919-1924)
Sensual covers of sheet music, illustrated by W. Ortmann (ca. 1919-1924)

Ortmann is the most prolific of all German sheet music illustrators, closely followed by Willy Herzig and Paul Telemann. In our collection, all of  Ortmann’s music covers were designed during the five years following the First World War (WWI). The information about Ortmann’s life and the photos come from his grandson Peter Crane of Seattle. He told us that before WWI the young Ortmann created advertisements and posters for the gas company. At the Sammlungen Online of the Wiener Albertina one can see proof of his graphic talent at the age of twenty-five. The quality of his posters rivals with the Plakatstil creations of illustrious designers Lucian Bernhard, Ludwig Hohlwein, Julius Klinger and Hans Rudi Erdt.

Poster designed by Wolfgang Ortmann: “Koche und backe mit Gas!” (ca 1910)
Poster designed by W. Ortmann: "Bade mit Gas" (ca 1910)
Poster designed by W. Ortmann: “Bade mit Gas” (ca 1910)
Ortmann married four times with a Jewish wife although he himself was a protestant. With his first wife Rika Baruch, he had a daughter Ruth (called ‘Muschi’) and a son Erik Jürgen. We see little Muschi in a photograph, probably around 1914, sitting on her father’s lap. It seems probable that she stood model for some of his posters.

Ortmann in military uniform with his daughter Muschi
Wolfgang Ortmann in military uniform with his daughter Muschi (ca. 1914)

Before or at the outbreak of WWI their marriage broke up. Years later, when Hitler came to power, Ortmann’s ex-wife Rika had every reason to flee Germany because not only was she Jewish, but also a communist. In 1933 she moved to Russia with her daughter Muschi.

Rika Ortmann-Baruch and daughter Muschi
Rika Ortmann-Baruch (left) and daughter Muschi

A couple of years later Muschi left Moscow for London, married and immigrated with her husband Fritz Daniel to America in 1936. In that year her mother Rika fell victim to Stalin’s Great Purge and was isolated from her family, unable to receive nor to send letters. She was sentenced to eight years imprisonement. But before the end of that term, in 1941, she was shot by the NKVD (The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) in the mass murder of 157 political prisoners and buried in the Medvedev Forest.
(read more on Rika Baruch here)

Already in 1915 Ortmann met his second wife Eva Löwenfeld (1895-1988) and married her a year later. At the end of WWI, Eva and Wolfgang got a daughter and named her Sibylle. One or two documents from archives seem to suggest that during the war Ortmann served in the army as a reporter artist, illustrating battles and drawing maps.

Eva Ortmann, née Löwenfeld (1920).
Eva Ortmann, née Löwenfeld, in 1920. She stood model for the illustration of ‘Das Detektivmädel’ (1921), composed by Leon Jessel.

But also the marriage with his second wife Eva, a professional singer, ended soon. Eva was offended and probably disgusted by Ortmann’s attraction to young girls, as she had discovered him with one of them. This episode is described in the memoirs of Eric Godal (Kein Talent sum Tellerwäscher) who at that time, ca 1920, was an assistant in Ortmann’s atelier. So, at 26, Eva left her husband to go live alone with her daughter Sibylle in Charlottenburg in poor circumstances.

Wolfgang Ortmann in 1918 with his baby daughter Sibylle; right 14-year old Sibylle in Berlin.
Wolfgang Ortmann in 1918 with his baby daughter Sibylle; right 14-year old Sibylle in Berlin.

She later remarried the singer Fritz Lechner. In 1936 Eva and Fritz fled the Nazi’s and immigrated to New York. A year later Sibylle joined her mother. The correspondence between Sibylle and her mother over the years 1932-1946 form the core of a book that Peter Crane published about the German-Jewish emigration background of his mother and grandmother: Wir leben nun mal auf einem Vulkan (Weidle Verlag, Bonn – 2005).

Refugee card of Sybille Ortmann (1934)
16-year old Sibylle as refugee in Britain, early 1934 (click to enlarge)

In 1919 Ortmann illustrated the book Das Brevier des Junggesellen with numerous erotic drawings.

Illustrations by W. Ortmann for 'Das Brevier des Junggesellen' (1919)
Illustrations by W. Ortmann for ‘Das Brevier des Junggesellen’ (1919).

His work didn’t pass unnoticed. Max Brod, a close friend of Kafka, admires the artistic skills of Ortmann in his poster for the 1920 operette Wenn Liebe Erwacht. In his novel ‘Die Frau, nach der man sich sehnt‘ Brod spends a page and a half to praise the image, which he thinks captures the essence of Berlin at that time.

'Wenn Liebe erwacht',
A detail of the sheet music cover for the operette ‘Wenn Liebe erwacht’ (ill. W. Ortmann, 1920)

A totally different work is Ortmann’s 1920 poster design for the Deutsche Volkspartei depicting a mother holding high her child. Rudolf Hess liked this poster so much that he sent a copy to his parents as a keepsake. And then there is this 1933 or later poster ‘Dein Einsatz‘ for the Volksbund fur das Deutschtum Im Auslanda cultural public relation association of the National Socialists.

Two propaganda posters by Ortmann, 1920 (left) and +/- 1933 (right)
Two propaganda posters by Ortmann, 1920 (left) and +/- 1933 (right)

Ortmann married a third time (we don’t know with whom nor for how long) and spent the end of his life with his fourth wife Grete. We see them together in a picture taken in Berlin in 1966 when Peter Crane visited his grandfather after having looked him up in the telephone book. Ortmann is then already over 80 years old. He died a few years later. Until now we haven’t found any post-WW2 art work by Wolfgang Ortmann.

Wolfgang Ortmann in Berlin with his fourth wife. Right: with his grandson Peter Crane in 1966.
Wolfgang Ortmann in Berlin with his fourth wife. Right: with his grandson Peter Crane in 1966.

Peter Crane wrote to us: “When Hitler came to power, Ortmann made busts of Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels and displayed them in a department store window in Berlin. (…)  But because of his Jewish wife, he could not be admitted to the Reichskulturkammer, and I think his work for the Nazis dried up.” The Nazi pressure on Aryans to leave their Jewish wife was immense. But Ortmann stayed with his wife and did not desert her. Grete had to do forced labor in a munition factory but she survived the war (unlike her sister who was murdered in Auschwitz). She also endured the ‘liberation’ of Berlin, as Peter Crane chillingly accounts: Grete Ortmann said to me, speaking of 1945, “And when the Russians came, they took ALL the women.”  She looked deeply into my eyes as she said that, so that I would understand that she was referring to herself…


I Love You Sunday

I Love You Sunday

This nice cover is by the hand of Helen Van Doorn-Morgan. We couldn’t find much about this illustrator, apart from her other nice covers: she was born in 1902 (Springfield, Ohio) and lived until 1986. Her designs for sheet music were almost exclusively for Forster Music Publisher (Chicago).

With her highly stylised covers Van Doorn-Morgan is a forerunner of American Art Deco in sheet music during the Thirties, as seen in the work of Ben Harris and his wife Georgette (‘Jorj‘). This style appeared in America a few years later than its European precursor (which strictly made its debut with the 1925 Exposition internationale des Arts décoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris). Perhaps this time lag partly explains why the American Deco sheet music covers are mostly nice and pleasantly decorative. Often, European Art Deco music illustrations are more dynamic and forceful, but also frivolous and lively. See for yourself in our various Art Deco illustrated sheet music

We wish you a nice and pleasant Sunday!

Les plus désespérés sont les chants les plus beaux…

This striking and rather dramatic cover was illustrated by Pol Rab who is known for the two cartoon doggies Ric et Rac, later the title of a children’s magazine. According to Hergé they were inspirational to the creation of Tintin’s Snowy (or if you prefer Milou). But one inevitably makes the link with the famous dogs for Black & White Whiskey.


The song Pars gets its full flavour of self-pity and tragedy through Yvonne George‘s rendition. She is known for having lived the bohemian life in Montparnasse in the 20s, and the (often amorous) attention she got from intellectuals and artists such as Robert Desnos, Erik Satie, Henri Jeanson, Jean Cocteau, Maurice de Vlaminck, Kees van Dongen…  At the age of 33 Yvonne George died of tuberculosis in Genua, ravaged by the excesses of alcohol and drugs. Listen and weep!

 Pars sans te retourner
Pars sans te souvenir
Ni mes baisers ni mes étreintes
En ton cœur n’ont laissé d’ empreinte
Je n’ai pas su t’ aimer
Pas su te retenir
Pars sans un mot d’ adieu
Pars, laisse-moi souffrir
Le vent qui t’apporta t’emporte
Et dussé-je en mourir, qu’importe
Pars sans te retourner
Pars sans te souvenir

Portrait of Yvonne George, from a poster by Kees van Dongen
Yvonne George, poster designed by Kees van Dongen

Les plus désespérés sont les chants les plus beaux
Et j’en sais d’immortels qui sont de purs sanglots.

Alfred de Musset

Best are the songs most desperate in their woe —
Immortal ones, which are pure sobs I know.

Alfred de Musset translated by Emma Lazarus