Erich Ohser

Biography

Illustrations, cartoons. Born 18 March 1903 in Untergettengrün, Vogtland. 1907: the Ohser family moved to Plauen. 1921-7: studied at the Leipzig Akademie für graphische Künste und Buchgewerbe: teachers included Hugo Steiner-Prag (printmaking), Hans Alexander Müller (woodcutting), Hermann Delitsch (lettering). From 1924: commercial work, including posters for Sparkasse, Stadttheater and Zoo. 1927: illustrated first Erich Kästner book, Herz auf Taille. By 1928 Ohser had worked for several journals, including Neue Leipziger Zeitung and Lustige Blätter. 1928: settled in Berlin. 1929-33: worked on the social-democratic journal Vorwärts, and Querschnitt. 1930: with Kästner, author of children’s books, visited Moscow and Leningrad; married Marigard Bantzer. 1931: son Christian born. 1934: his application for membership of the Reichspressekammer was rejected supposedly due to his ‘marxist’ connections, and Ohser was thus unable to work for the Press.

‘However, towards the end of [1934] a significant event occurred: the [journal] Berliner Illustrirte, part of Ullstein publishers, had the intention to launch a cartoon with a regular character (along the lines of America’s beloved Mickey Mouse). Erich Ohser was invited along with other cartoonists to submit some sample cartoons: Vater und Sohn were born. The publishers managed to obtain a work permit for Ohser as non-political cartoonist, but on the proviso that he must use a pseudonym to publish his works. Ohser assumed the name of e.o. plauen.’ (From ‘About Erich Ohser’: www.suedverlag.de/engisch/ohser/ohser. As ‘e.o. plauen’ (for Erich Ohser Plauen; the pseudonym was also used for his political cartoons) he created the enormously popular ‘Vater und Sohn’ (Father and Son) cartoon which appeared weekly in the Berliner Illustrirte (later, Illustrierte) Zeitung from 13 December 1934 (p. 1818) to December 1937. Ullstein issued books of the cartoons from 1935.

‘His “Father and Son” series made him one of the best-known and most popular of German cartoonists between the two wars, leading him towards a destiny that lay in the extremely delicate and problematic sphere where politics meet art. Just how far [he] unknowingly allowed himself to be misused by the powers of the Third [Reich], or how far he gave way to opportunism in the days of their triumphs, will never be known exactly. The fact is that he published weekly political cartoons in official organs [particularly in Das Reich, 1940-44] of the regime for a number of years, and thus furthered Goebbels’ propaganda aims. His wealth of ideas, his talent for caricature and his pleasure in poking fun at human weaknesses seem to have sealed his own fate and may well have driven him into an inner conflict from which there was no escape. In any case he was denounced [on 22 February 1944 by Bruno Schulz, editor of Das Deutsche Lichtbild] for anti-Nazi utterances in the circle of his friends [and was arrested on 28 March] and came before the People’s Tribunal shortly after. The outwardly and inwardly untenable situation, of which he must have been well aware, was ended by his suicide in his cell [in Berlin-Moabit prison on 6 April, the day before his trial] at the age of only thirty-eight.’ (‘The Editors’, Graphis, 1949; see below). (EO was actually 41 when he committed suicide.) Ohser’s studio in Berlin-Wilmersdorfhad been destroyed during a bombing raid in November 1943. In 2003 the German Post Office marked the centenary of Ohser’s birth by issuing ‘Father and Son’ stamps.

Writings by

  • Vater und Sohn, Berlin: Ullstein, 1936
  • Erich Kästner, Herz auf Taille, Zurich: Atrium, 1959 (ills. by EO)
  • Das Buch von Leipzig, Munich: Piper, 1929 (ills. by EO)
  • letter in Erich Ohser (exh. cat.), Hannover: Wilhelm-Busch-Museum, 1962. There are now numerous Ohser/plauen titles in print: see Google (Erich Ohser Plauen) and follow links.

Writings about

  • A comprehensive reference is Erich Ohser – e.o. plauen (exh. cat.), 1987; see below.
  • W. Hofmann, ‘Father and son’, Archiv für Buchgewerbe und Gebrauchsgraphik, Leipzig: Deutsche Buchgewerbeverein., 1936, pp. 47-50
  • Anton Sailer, ‘Lob des Aktzeichnens’, Das Kunstwerk, 1946/47, v. 4, pp. 9-16 (esp. p. 10: EOP drawing of nude) Manuel Gasser, ‘E.O. Plauen. “Father and son”’, Graphis, Jan. 1949, no. 25, pp. 74-9 Kurt Kusenberg, ‘Erich Ohser’, Das Kunstwerk, 1951, v. 6, pp. 30-35
  • Vollmer, 1956
  • Erich Kästner, Heiteres von e.o. plauen, Hannover: Schmidt, Küster, 1957
  • Erich Ohser (exh. cat.), Hannover: Wilhelm-Busch-Museum, 1962 (includes biog, list of EO’s illustrated books
  • extract from E. Kästner, Heiteres von e.o. plauen
  • Kurt Kusenberg, ‘Wie “Vater und Sohn” geboren wurden’
  • L.E. Reindl, ‘Grossvater, Vater und Sohn’ from his E.O. Plauen, Der Vater und seine Freunde)
  • Werner Klemke, ‘Die Geschichte von Erich Ohser alias e.o. plauen’ (Foreword), in e.o. plauen, Vater und Sohn, Berlin, 1968
  • L.E. Reindl, D. Laubach, E.O. Plauen, Vater und Sohn. Gesamtausgabe, Konstanz, 1982
  • Andreas Franzke and others, Erich Ohser – e.o. plauen. Der Zeichner 1903-44 (exh. cat.), Stuttgart: Staatsgalerie, 1987 (includes biography with photos, list of books illust. by EO, extensive bibliography)
  • Saur, 2000
  • Gert Claussnitzer, ‘Ausdrucksformen des Komischen und Satirischen’ (EO’s 100th birthday), Illustration 63, 1/2003, pp. 22-3 Brigitte Busch, ‘Erinnerungen an Erich Ohser – e.o. plauen’, Illustration 63, 1/2003, pp. 24-6
  • ‘Erinnerungen an meiner Vater’ (and articles about OE’s work): www.suedverlag.de/englisch/ohser/ohser, and numerous other sites.

Exhibitions

  • Buch- und Kunsthandlung Aurich, Plauen, 1922
  • Haus der Kunst, Dortmund, 1940
  • Galerie Galetzki, Stuttgart, 1952 (memorial exh.)
  • Wilhelm Busch Museum, Hannover, 1962
  • Wilhelm Busch Museum, Hannover, 1964 (group)
  • Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, 1987
  • Städtische Galeried, Plauen, 1993
  • Busch Museum, Hannover, 2000 (then to Städtische Galerie, Karlsruhe, Dec. 2000-Feb. 2001
  • Haus Ludwig, Saarlouis
  • Altonaer Museum, Hamburg)
  • Galerie Bartsch & Chariau, Munich, 2000
  • Galerie e.o. plauen, Plauen, 2003.