Hugo Steiner-Prag was born Hugo Steiner in Prague (at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) on December 12, 1880. His parents were Hermann Steiner, a bookseller and Berta Steiner (née Knina), who claimed to be a descendent of the famous Rabbi Judah Loew (1529-1609). Hugo Steiner was the youngest of four brothers. Upon leaving secondary school, Hugo Steiner joined Jung-Prag, a group of young artists who tended strongly toward mysticism and the occult. He took private art lessons and finally entered the Prager Kunstakademie (Prague Academy of the Arts) in 1897. In 1900, Steiner moved to Munich to enroll at the Königliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Royal Academy of Fine Arts). Concomitantly, he added the name of his native city Prag (using the German spelling) to his last name in order to distinguish himself from other artists bearing the same name. Steiner-Prag soon transferred to the Lehr- und Versuchsstätten in Munich and later became a teacher there. One of his students was Paula Bergmann, whom he married in 1905. The couple moved to Barmen in the Rhineland where Steiner-Prag had been offered a position as a professor for the local Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts). They had two children, Detlev and Helga, who were born in 1906 and 1908, respectively.
In 1907 he was offered a position as professor at Leipzig's Königliche Akademie für Graphische Künste und Buchgewerbe (Royal Academy of Graphic Arts and Book Trade). This was followed by a very productive period in which Steiner-Prag illustrated books for well-known publishing houses as well as created stage decorations. He also wrote several articles for newspapers and magazines, and in 1913 he designed his own typeface, the Hugo-Steiner-Prag-Schrift. In 1916, Steiner-Prag created twenty-five lithographs for Gustav Meyrink's novel, Der Golem, which would become his masterpiece.
In addition to his work as a professor in Leipzig, Steiner-Prag became art director of the Propylaeen publishing house in Berlin and organized several book exhibits, including the first international book exhibit in Leipzig in 1927. He was also an active member of various organizations dedicated to book arts and design.
In 1933, on his return from Paris, Steiner-Prag discovered that the Nazis had terminated his position as professor. Hugo Steiner-Prag decided to leave Germany. He returned to Prague and established a private school for book arts and graphic design, called the Officina Pragensis. In 1938 he emigrated to Sweden with the librarian Eleanor Feisenberg. In Stockholm, Steiner-Prag became director of the Skolan foer Bok- och Reklamkonst and taught book design, advertising and stage design.
Eleanor Feisenberg immigrated to the United States. After divorcing his first wife, Paula and finally receiving his visa, Steiner-Prag left Stockholm on May 15, 1941 for San Francisco via Finland, Russia, Japan and Honolulu. He arrived in the United States at the end of June 1941. Prior to his immigration, Steiner-Prag had been offered a position as professor at the Division of Graphic Arts at New York University, so he settled a respectable commuter distance away in New Haven, Connecticut. He lectured once a week in New York and spent the remainder of his time writing his autobiography and several articles. On January 3, 1942, Hugo Steiner-Prag married Eleanor Feisenberg and the couple moved to New York City. Large publishing houses, such as Random House, began commissioning his work.
In 1943, he mounted a successful exhibition at the New York Public Library. Throughout 1945, Steiner-Prag's health began to deteriorate and he eventually suffered a heart attack from which he did not recover. Hugo Steiner-Prag died on September 10, 1945 in New York City.
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Steiner-Prag, Hugo: Self-Portrait, Leo Baeck Institute, 78.1321.