Alfred Roloff
1879 - 1951

Illustrator for the 'Illustrierte Geschichte des Weltkrieges'

Attacking Lodz on the Eastern Front in December 1914


Alfred Gustav Christian Roloff was born in 1879 in Lassan (Kreis Greifswald – Pomerania) as the son of a marine officer. He entered the Berlin Academy in 1896 and graduated in 1901. The same year he established himself in Berlin as a painter and illustrator. He seems to have been extremely prolific in illustrating dime novels and books. His main employer before the Great War was the ‘Verlagshaus für Volksliteratur und Kunst’, a publishing house that, together with its rival Eichler, virtually inundated the European and world markets with cheap publications. Roloff was a major player amongst the artists who produced thousands of «grabby» covers for that ephemeral market. He pursued his career during the two wars, working for a great number of publishing houses. «Professor» Roloff was also appreciated as an academy painter. Horses were his speciality and one of his paintings even entered the «Haus der Deutsche Kunst» in Munich in 1937. Roloff was still working after World War II. He died in Rade bei Renndsburg (Schleswig-Holstein) in 1951.

Roloff made a seminal – and involuntary - contribution to the history of the detective/horror literature in designing the covers of «Aus den Geheimakten des Weltdetektivs», a Sherlock Holmes plagiarism published before the Great War by the Verlagshaus für Volksliteratur und Kunst. The series was translated several times and finally adapted in French during the Thirties by the Flemish writer Jean Ray (Jean Raymond De Kremer) under the name of «Harry Dickson». The association of Jean Ray’s stories with Roloff’s often bombastic illustrations gave birth to a literary legend.

The following illustrations are from Roloff’s contribution to a serial Great War history magazine called ‘Illustriete Geschichte des Weltkriegs’. Published in weekly installments, by the war’s end it totalled 9 volumes in all, some 3500 pages of text and illustrations.

Roloff finished some 50 illustrations for this series, most unevenly spread out over the war years, all printed full-page in grey tone, none in color. He was very active in the first year and also in 1918/1919. As was usual with German and Austrian illustrators, his work was divided almost evenly between portraying scenes from the Western and Eastern Fronts, though his Eastern Front work is somewhat more interesting in terms of composition and subject matter. He also portrayed a number of scenes from the 1918-1919 revolutionary period in Germany.

His early illustrations seem more academic in composition and style but after producing several illustrations, it took on a less sophisticated look, approaching that of popular British illustrators, many working for working-class, ‘pulp’ magazines such as ‘the War Illustrated’ or ‘the War Budget’. Printing quality was better in Roloff’s case however and so his illustrations appear to be more accomplished after the passage of all these years since the Great War.

Text and portrait courtesy of Michel Oleffe


portrait of A. Roloff

* see also 'Illustrierte Geschichte des Weltkrieges'

to Illustrations by Alfred Roloff

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