Paul Urban

Biography

Books, jackets, posters. Born Paul Ludwig Alois Urban 14 November 1901 in Munich. 1918: student at Munich Kunstgewerbeschule: his teachers included the director Richard Riemerschmid, Julius Diez, F.H. Ehmcke, Willi Geiger, Anna Simons. Later a member of the German Communist Party, and in the John Heartfield circle in Berlin. He possibly studied later at the Bauhaus although there is no proof of this; it is likely that he was in Russia at the time. From 1927: worked in Berlin for the socialist Buchgemeinschaft Universum-Bücherei für Alle, the communist Neuer Deutsche Verlag, the journals Film und Volk and Das Neue Russland and the Büchergilde Gutenberg. With Heartfield, one of the founders of the Association Revolutionärer Bildender Künstler Deutschlands; drew cartoons, designed photomontages for political journals and leaflets. From November 1931: exhibited and taught in Moscow.

1933: ‘escaped from a German concentration camp’ and fled via Paris to Amsterdam, arriving there in November. 1933-6: designed books in Holland for the publishers Querido Verlag and Verlag Allert de Lange. Autumn 1936: first worked in Zurich, then left for Russia; after the summer of 1937 nothing more was heard of him. A Soviet friend later wrote of meeting him at his room in the Hotel National, Moscow: ‘…[W]hen he opened the door and saw me he was speechless for a few minutes. Then he began to cry, something I would never have expected from him. He told me he was completely isolated in Moscow, that he had nothing to do, no one to talk to, and that he did not even have anything to read as he did not understand Russian. “I can’t reach anybody, it is worse than in Paris. I understand that one has to be cautious there, but I never expected life here to be so conspiratorial.”

‘Since he had come in the spring, expecting to stay a short time, he had only a light suit. Now it was deep winter and he had no overcoat. When he said this to the man who came every two weeks to bring him money the man answered: “What do you need a coat for? You don’t have to leave the hotel, it is nice and warm here and you can get your meals in the hotel restaurant.”

‘We never saw him again, and received only one cryptic note in the summer of 1937…“It looks as if heads are rolling in Red Square.” Perhaps he understood by then, much too late. After the war I made inquiries among his friends and relatives. In vain. No one ever heard of Paul Urban again.’ (Elsa Poretsky, quoted, in English, in Löb, 1995, pp. 205, 208; see below)

Writings about

  • Kurt Löb, ‘Drei deutschsprachige graphische Gestalter als Emigranten in Holland (1925-50)’, Philobiblon, Sept. 1989, pp. 177-207 (includes Henri Friedlaender)
  • Helmut Fritz Landshoff, Amsterdam, Keizersgracht 333, Querido Verlag. Erinnerungen eines Verlegers, Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau-Verlag, 1991
  • K. Löb, ‘Die Buchgestaltungen Paul L. Urbans für die Amsterdamer Exil-Verlage Querido und Allert de Lange (1933-36/7)’, Philobiblon, 1991, 4, pp. 302-20
  • Kees Broos and Paul Hefting, Dutch Graphic Design, London: Phaidon, 1993, pp. 126, 127
  • K. Löb, Exil-Gestalten. Deutsche Buchgestalter in den Niederlanden 1932-1950, Arnhem: Gouda Quint, 1995 (the work of Henri Friedlaender and Paul Urban)
  • Ernst Fischer and others, Buchgestaltung im Exil 1933-1950. Eine Ausstellung des Deutschen Exilarchivs 1933-1945 Der Deutschen Bibliothek. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2003. Very comprehensive. , 2003, p. 42, and biog. pp. 206-7.
  • Heilpern, ‘Paul Urban’, Gebrauchsgraphik (International Advertising Art), Berlin: Phönix Illustrationsdruck und Verlag GmbH (later: ‘Gebrauchsgraphik’ Druck und Verlag GmbH), 1933-71. Published from Munich from 1950., Feb. 1930, pp. 44-9

Exhibitions

  • Moscow, 1931.