A life in pieces

Once more, a post around a book, although a bit more tangentially this time.

Mr Crownfolio is reading Electric Eden, a book about British folk music (in the widest sense as it seems to include the god-like genius of Julian Cope as well).  And when he was reading about Fairport Convention, he made a rather surprising discovery, which was that Richard Thompson (a.k.a. Mr British Folk) had, for a year, been Hans Unger’s assistant, making the windows for St Columba’s Roman Catholic Church in Upton-on-Chester sometime in the mid 1960s.  Here’s the church and all of the people.

St Columbas Catholic Church Upton on Chester wide shot

And here’s one of Unger’s windows.

Hans Unger window for St Columba's Chester

Now quite apart from the unsuspected folk/Hans Unger overlap, my surprise was also because I had no idea that Unger made stained glass.  He did do a lot of wonderful posters.  The best known are for London Underground, like this fishy gem from 1956.

Hans Unger London Transport poster 1956

I’m also rather fond of this little GPO one from 1954.  Apparently this format was designed to be displayed in telephone boxes.

Hans Unger TV licence GPO poster 1954

These later (1962/1967) GPO ones were up at the most recent Morphets sale, and prove that his style evolved a great deal over the decades.

Hans Unger Post Early 1962 GPO Christmas poster

Hans Unger 1967 GPO Post Early Christmas poster

But perhaps I shouldn’t be amazed about the stained glass, because at the same time that he was producing the GPO posters, Unger also did a number of mosaic posters for London Underground,.  And mosaic is, after all, just a different way of making patterns with glass.

Hans Unger guard mosaic poster for London Transport 1962

Hans Unger Mosaic bus poster London Transport 1970

What’s interesting about these, is that they are jointly signed by Hans Unger and Eberhard Schulze.  Once again, it’s Richard Thompson who can tell us a bit more.

Hans was a terrific designer, who made some memorable posters for London Transport, amongst other things. He took his own life in the late 70s. I believe his partner, Eberhard Schultz, went back to Germany.

A sad ending.  But before that happened, it seems that they were very productive together.  Here’s St Stephen’s Astley, a Manchester church which was consecrated in 1968.

Unger Schulze St Stephens Astley window

Unger Schulze St Stephens Astley

And the chapel of the Rochdale Pallottine Convent.

But the stained glass was clearly a sideline in comparison to their main work in mosaics.  Here’s a mosaic for UNICEF,

Unicef Mosaic Unger Schulze

and a 1964 Christmas card for the BBC.

Unger Schulze 1964 Christmas Card for BBC

How about a mosaic of Elvis?

Unger Schulze Elvis mosaic

And this is just a tiny sample of what they produced together (there is a huge archive here if you want to take a look for yourself).  Their partnership became very well known, and their smaller works were apparently much in demand by collectors.  Here they are working together in about 1964.

And here is Unger being presented to the Queen with some great piece in the background.

He looks rather worried really.

So, a whole side of Hans Unger’s life and work that I had no idea about.  But there’s a rather odd coda too.  Sadly, soon after Unger’s death, Eberhard Schulze injured his back and had to give up mosaics.  But he clearly wasn’t someone who relished early retirement.

He went on to develop a successful career as a specialist aquarist, becoming England’s leading discus fish breeder and even carried out aquarium installations for the rich and famous, such as the Saudi Royal Family and the Sultan of Brunei. He now lives in Nonthaburi in Thailand.

If anyone can add to this, I’d love to hear from you, as I feel rather as though I’ve only just scratched the surface of the subject here.  And also, if anyone can explain why all these new churches were being built in the north, I’d also love to know.

And if you’re inspired enough to want to buy one for yourself, Martin Steenson at Books and Things has this Unger/Schulze fish poster for sale for just £30.

Unger Schulze London Transport poster fish

It’s a bit battered, but still lovely.

  • What splendid work. Thank you so much for the introduction…off to do some further investigating…

  • Maybe it was his work with stained glass that led Unger to use fluorescent inks in some of his GPO and LT posters? I’ve never seen them used so much by any other designer.

  • What a wonderful find this has been, and a complete coincidence, as I just Googled Hans on a whim, mere days after this article was posted. Well, at least I’d like to think of it as a coincidence.

    I lived in Hans’s house in Muswell Hill with my parents from shortly before his death until the late 70s. Hans rented us the upstairs of his semi-detatched, furnished the whole place for us all the way down to the linens, plates, and cutlery, and was very kind. My mum, herself a Jewish escapee from Nazi Europe, and an artist, marveled at him and his work. It wasn’t long after we moved in, sadly, that we became concerned at not seeing him for a few days, and… well… led to his discovery with a bottle of sleeping pills by his bedside, with a goodbye note. Needless to say, shocking for a 14 year old. Still, we stayed in the house for about 4 more years, and had Hans’s giant outdoor mosaic to look at in the back yard, the stained glass over the front door, and several of his LT posters scattered throughout the house.

    Hans’s spirit was complemented well by the woman who moved into the lower part of the house afterwards. I believe that she knew Hans, and herself was a Jewish South African illustationist – Lixi Darvall. She filled the house with art and laughter, but sadly, she too died while we lived there, in her case from cancer.

    I remember the house well, full of art and artists, and of the odd collection of Jewish survivors, and am fond of all those creations by these wonderful people.

  • Thank you so much for getting in touch – it’s always so good to hear from people with personal memories of the designers themselves.

  • Hans Unger was my Great Uncle, I grew up in a house full of his works. I have also created mosaic panels and sculptures. My father and mother were very close to Hans. A a true innovator in mosaic, graphic design and pop art one can only look in marvel at his pieces…I love answer any questions about him.

  • Robert, thank you so much for getting in touch – I would love to hear any of your memories of Hans and his work.

  • The Elvis mosaic was designed and made by Eberhard Schulze in 1960 with no input from Hans when the pair were setting up their studio and learning about mosaic. For a recent article on the Unger-Schulze studio see ANDAMENTO 6, 2012, journal of BAMM, British Association of Modern Mosaicists and available from the BAMM website. The author K.Hellon is in touch by email with Eberhard and has her information direct from him and the Unger estate, the Hernstadt family. Eberhard injured his back making the Penguin mosaic, 1964, for Penguin Publishing, currently housed in Rugby. I just visited the British Design exhibition at the V&A museum and was shocked to find not a single image by Hans anywhere. He designed the iconic ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ poster of the 1960s and covers for the Observer magazine.

  • Thank you so much for that, I will take a look at it as soon as I get a chance.

    I haven’t been to the British Design exhibition yet, but he is definitely a designer who should be there. Some of his posters for London Transport are among the best they produced after the war.

  • You have the bit about Richard Thompson wrong … he never was an assistant to HU, and he did never work on any stained glass window … He helped me with the laborious work on the background of the Philadelphia mosaic (1967 or 1968). Although it involved extra work for me since it took time for him to get the feel of what I wanted, he proved to be very able and willing.

    He was the lead guitarist of the pop group, Fairport Convention. He was an able and gifted young man and could easily have made his mark in the art world. However, he chose the pop world and I well remember when the rest of the group came to the studio to collect him in their red, dilapidated car going to do a gig for the Oxford students.

    It was nothing more than a few hours on an occasional afternoon.

  • Thank you very much for getting in contact. I took my information from the book, but am more than happy to stand corrected!

  • Hans was my wife’s mother’s cousin. Nurit and I visited Hans at his Muswell Hill home whenever we were in London. Nurit purchased a mosaic of a cathedral from him in 1964 which we have had in our home in Boulder for 45 years. It is 18″ by 30″ mounted on a 24″x 36″ board. I wonder if there are other mosaics of his in private hands.

  • Thank you so much for getting in touch – I’d love to see a picture of the mosaic if that were possible.

  • My parents were friendly with Hans in London in the 1960s and he made a mosaic of our house in St. John’s Wood, complete with passing London Bus, in 1965, the year I was born. Have always treasured it. Adore his posters for the Underground too.

  • I’m really touched to see how many people remember Hans Unger so fondly, he must have been a very good friend as well as a wonderful designer.

  • My husband Geoffrey Nicholson, journalist, and our three sons lived next door at 17 Muswell Hill Road. We admired and loved Hans and knew him well. Perhaps it is correct to say I knew him very well. I was worried because I had not seen him for a day or two and he had warned me that there might come a day when he would take his life…When Geoff, who’d been away working, came home, he found him…. For my birthday one year my husband commissioned Hans to make me a mosaic…a giant circle in natural pieces of marble which emerges from its background of the same marble. I adore it to this day. It lifts my heart. And Eberhard …lots of love. x.

  • Thank you for that, it’s a sad story but still good to know more about him.

    So many people have come and shared their memories of Hans Unger, that he must have been a very remarkable and well-loved man. It’s wonderful to hear all these stories, and I rreally appreciate them. He also seems to have been very generous with his work too.

  • I’ve (belatedly!) enjoyed reading this thread and think it’s a shame that Unger and Shultz’s work is not more widely known. The Unger/Eber mosaic for St. Jude’s church in Wigan is one of the great public art commissions of the 20th century.

    I’d be grateful if the contributors of this thread who knew Hans Unger: “D.E”, Robert Hernstad, Jim Wolf, “MLS”, Mavis Nicholson and Mr Schulze himself could drop me a line. I’m hoping to write a piece on this incredible work and would love the opportunity to speak to you.

    Best wishes



  • I just stumbled across this post, which brought memories flooding back. I only knew Hans in the last few years of his life, but we became good friends and played bridge together most weeks – none of us were very good at it. I burst into tears when I learned of his death. I’m no artist myself, but I did greatly appreciate his work and own one small mosaic by Unger-Schultze. I wish I had more

  • Thank you for getting in contact. Hans Unger must have been a very remarkable person as well as a remarkable artist, to have inspired such memories from so many people.

  • I much appreciated this material on Hans Unger’s life and work. An artist-designer of considerable range and power. One suggestion: the picture of Hans Unger and the Queen? I think it is Princess Margaret, not the Queen.

  • Hmm, it could be either, really couldn’t it. Although – and this with the caveat that I wrote this piece some time ago – I think it came from a reputable source with that caption.

  • I worked with the designer and poster artist Royston Cooper in his Belsize Park home and studio for a number of years. It was there that I met Hans and later was invited to his Muswell Hill home with my wife one evening. We felt honoured as Hans was apparently verty selective as to who he invited. I remember him making beautiful glass ceramics which he then melted in a kiln. I also knew of his wartime exploits and as an escaped POW he crossed the Pyrenees to safety in a snowstorm carrying an exhausted American flyer and as a result suffered frostbite to his feet. He then conducted an ongoing battle against the NHS for suitable footwear.
    Hans produced a beautiful stained glass bar top for us which was sited in a London restaurant that we were designing (think it was called the Anti-Opera, one of Joseph Berkman’s restaurants). The top was lit from within the bar base (which was an extremely heavy lead horse trough) and I can still remember the delight when it was switched on and the complete top was illuminated (with the colours running up the wine glasses standing on its top). Magic.

  • Hi,
    I have one of these mosaics, inherited from my Grandfather.
    A very heavy piece made of a red stone from Pietrasanta, Carrara,Italy set in what seems to be a bitumen like substance. An amazing use of materials and perspective as this piece seems to want to jump out of the frame. I have reason to believe that it is a smaller version of a much larger piece created for an installation in Germany, I could be wrong!?
    Are there any keen collectors out there who would like to add this to their collection as I have down shifted and have had it in storage for twenty years.
    Many thanks

  • Apologies for missing this post initially, I’d love to see a picture of this if you have one.

  • I was recently given two original artworks by Hans Unger by my father (Modern London and Winter Country Walks). I believe my grandfather (Alexander Bryce Beaumont), who worked at LT as publicity officer worked with Hans in the 1950s and greatly enjoyed his company. My father also has fond memories of him. I intend to reframe and hang them for future generations to enjoy.

  • What fabulous things to own, I’m very envious. I don’t suppose your grandfather left behind any memories of his time at London Transport? I’d love to know all about his work there if he did.

  • I have just been to the wonderful ‘Designs on Britain’ exhibition at the Jewish Museum, London today with my daughter. We were introduced by the exhibition and through the co-curator, Julia Weiner,, to the work of Hans Unger. I then found this thread. Unfortunately the exhibition ends tomorrow so unless you are able to visit tomorrow you will have to be happy with the catalogue. Please check out this blog to find out more about the show and about Unger’s work in the exhibition. Thanks to everyone for your contributions to this wonderful thread. Best wishes to all. http://www.wemadethis.co.uk/blog/2017/10/designs-on-britain/

  • Hello I think I may have the original mosaic for the BBC Christmas cards pictured on your site. Can i send you a photo.

    Regards Philip

  • I, too, have been reading ‘Electric Eden’ and was amazed to find a reference to stained glass (one of my obsessions, along with music). So I googled and found your article – great! Unger and Schulze’s technique was quite experimental at the time, and it would appear that some of the larger windows at St Columba’s Church have now been removed because of deterioration…..let’s hope that Richard Thompson’s contribution has survived…..

  • A late reply to something I wrote in 2016.
    Could you email me for photos of the mosaic which I have and I will send them over as requested.

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