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Le Witt and Him

December 10, 2018

Having met in a Warsaw café in 1933, two Polish-born artists Jan Le Witt and George Him, built upon a friendship to become the highly successful collaborative design partnership Lewitt-Him. It’s so difficult to accurately say which partner created what, so I’ve created this post for both artists, working together.

George Him was born Jerzy Himmelfarb in 1900 to a Polish-Jewish family in Lodz, Poland. After schooling and further education in Warsaw Him studied Roman Law in Moscow but left in 1917 when the Russian Revolution forced the closure of the university he was attending. He moved to Bonn and by 1924 had completed a PhD at the University of Bonn on the comparative history of religions before deciding to study graphic art in Leipzig. George studied at the Leipzig Academy of Graphic Art but even before he graduated in 1928, he was already undertaking commercial commissions. He returned to Poland where, in 1933, he changed his name and also established a design partnership with Jan Le Witt. Working as Lewitt-Him, the two established a distinctive design style which combined cubist and surrealist elements, often in a humorous context. Their most notable work in Poland were illustrations for an experimental poetry group known as Skamander.

The first work that brought the team success was the 1934 graphic presentation of three poems by Julian Tuwim: “Locomotives”, “Rzepka” and “Bird radio”. This book was reprinted several times and also appeared in translation to French and English.

Him and Le Witt worked together in Poland for several years before, in 1937, they relocated the Lewitt-Him design business to London, following an exhibition of their work there by the publishers Lund Humphries. The pair quickly gained commercial contracts with London Transport and Imperial Airways as well as illustrating children’s books, such as The Little Red Engine Gets a Name (1942) by Diana Ross.

They settled here and soon found that they were among a growing number of talented artistic emigres.

George continued his practice as freelance designer and design consultant, active in all fields of graphic design, publicity, exhibitions, corporate identity, book design etc.

In London during World War II the partnership received notable commissions for information and public safety posters from, among others, the General Post Office, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the Ministry of Information.

George was naturalized as a British citizen in 1948 and the Lewitt-Him partnership enjoyed great success.

Notable commissions included designing the giant umbrella tree for the Wet Weather section of the 1946 Britain Can Make It exhibition…

… and the Guinness Clock Tower for Battersea Park Pleasure Gardens and murals for the Education Pavilion of the 1951 Festival of Britain. (More info on the clock here)

The Lewitt-Him partnership was dissolved in 1954, when Jan decided to focus on developing his abstract paintings and artworks. George continued to work as a commercial designer.

Among the advertising campaigns he illustrated was the 1950’s Schweppeshire campaign for the Schweppes drinks company. He also designed the point of sale merchandise to be used in the shops.

His other clients numbered several airlines, including Pan-American Airways, El Al and American Overseas Airlines plus the publishers of Punch and Penguin Books. He continued to illustrate books but also designed exhibition stands, such as the Australia stand at the 1960 Ideal Home Exhibition and large window displays, notably for the De Bijenkorf store in Rotterdam and the 1961 Christmas windows for the Design Centre in London.

From 1969 until 1977, Him taught graphic design at Leicester Polytechnic. Him was an active artist up until the very end of his life. Two retrospective exhibitions of his work have been held, one in 1976 at the London College of Printing and another in 1978 at the Ben Uri Gallery in London. In 1977 Him was awarded the Francis Williams Book Illustration Award and in 1978 became a Royal Designer for Industry.

Jan Le Witt (1907–1991) was a Polish-born British abstract artist, graphic designer and illustrator. He had a long professional partnership with George Him.

As a design company, Lewitt-Him brought an innovative use of colour, abstraction and symbolism to commercial design. They established a reputation for fine poster work during World War Two and for exhibition displays.

After the partnership Jan, who had become a British citizen in 1947, abandoned graphic design to work with Sadler’s Wells Ballet, creating sets and costumes for their performances.

A wonderful collaboration that lasted over 20 years. What do you think readers ?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. neatokeenetsy permalink
    December 12, 2018 11:20 pm

    This is marvelous! I’m thrilled you’re adding to your blog. It’s been such an inspiration and great resource. I hope you are very well, Craig. Happy Holidays!

    • December 13, 2018 7:31 am

      Thank you Cyndi, I hope this finds you well also. Do you fancy another combined post in the new year ? Let me know, and Happy Holidays too. C x

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