John Heartfield was born in Berlin- Schmargendorf, Germany as Helmut Herzfeld. In 1908 he studied in Munich at the Köngliche-Bayerische Kunstgewerbeschule, where he was greatly influenced by commercial designers, Albert Weisgerber and Ludwig Hohlwein. He moved to Berlin in 1913 and studied under Ernst Neumann at the Kunst-und Handwerkerschule.
He was drafted into the German military in 1914, serving in the Kaiser-Franz- Josef-Regiment. In 1915 he faked a nervous breakdown and was released from service. In 1916, as Germany began using an offensive nationalistic slogan, Helmut changed his name to John Heartfield, to protest the war. During the Weimar period he became a member of the Berlin DADA group. Heartfield used collage work as a political medium, using images from the political journals of the day. He was an editor for “Der DADA” and in 1920 he organized the First International DADA Fair in Berlin.
In 1923 Heartfield worked for the German Communist Party, editing periodicals such as “The Red Flag”. By 1930 he was working, on a regular basis, at the Abeiter-Illustrierte- Zeitung, (The Workers Illustrated Newspaper) in Berlin. From 1931 to 1932, he traveled to the U.S.S.R. where he traveled, lectured, gave lessons and exhibited over 300 of his works. He fled his own country in 1933, settling in Czechoslovakia. He fled again to England in 1938, but was refused a Residence permit, so in 1939, Heartfield left for the United States. During the 1940’s, as his health declined, he worked as a free- lance cartoonist. In 1956 he was elected a full member of the Deutsche Akademie der Künste.
During the next few years, Heartfield remained active, despite his poor health. He traveled to China where he made his first film, an autobiographical piece. He participated in numerous exhibitions all over Europe until 1968 when he died at the age of seventy-seven.