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Elizabeth Shaw (1920–1992): An Irish Artist’s Journey through Art and Activism

Elizabeth Shaw (1920–1992)

Elizabeth Shaw, a name resonant with creativity and commitment, left an indelible mark on art and activism. Born on May 4, 1920, in Belfast, Ireland, her life journey took her from the vibrant streets of Belfast to the bustling art scene of Berlin, Germany. This exploration delves into her life, work, and the profound impact she made during her 72 years.

Irish illustrator, cartoonist, travel writer, author, and autobiographer. Name variations: Elizabeth Shaw-Graetz. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1920; died in 1992; married Rene Graetz, in 1946.

Elizabeth Shaw

Born: 4 May 1920, Belfast, Ireland

Died: 27 June 1992 (aged 72), Berlin, Germany

Occupation(s): Artist, Illustrator, Children’s Book Author

Life and Work

Elizabeth Shaw, born in Belfast, Ireland, was an artist and children’s book author. She studied under Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland in London and contributed to the war effort during World War II as a mechanic. In 1944, she married sculptor René Graetz and moved to Berlin.

Awards and Honours

Shaw received several awards, including the Art Prize of the German Democratic Republic and the Käthe Kollwitz Prize from the Akademie der Künste Berlin. A primary school in Berlin-Pankow is named after her.

Selected Works

    • Der kleine Angsthase, Berlin (1963)
    • Gittis Tomatenpflanze, Berlin (1964)

Book Illustrations

    • Mark Twain: Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven (German edition), Aufbau, Berlin (1954)
    • Christian Fürchtegott Gellert: Fabeln. Aufbau, Berlin (1956)

Early Years and Artistic Formation

Elizabeth Shaw’s artistic journey began in the heart of Ireland, in Belfast, where she was born in 1920. In 1933, the Shaws relocated to England, laying the foundation for Elizabeth’s artistic pursuits. Her educational journey in art took a decisive turn between 1938 and 1940 when she studied under the tutelage of renowned artists Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London. This period marked the early blossoming of her artistic talents.

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1920, Elizabeth Shaw attended the Chelsea Art School in London, England, where her teachers included Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland. During World War II, she distinguished herself as an illustrator and cartoonist, contributing to such publications as Our Time and Lilliput. After moving to Germany in 1946, Shaw married Swiss-born Rene Graetz. They learned German and sought to establish a Communist society in Berlin. Shaw and Graetz attended the founding meetings of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, France. During the McCarthy era of virulent anti-Communism in mid-1950s America, their friends included a number of American and British dissidents.

Although establishing her reputation with caricatures of East Berlin’s intelligentsia, Shaw devoted two decades to collaborating with Bertha Waterstradt on the production of Das Magazin, which published the work of women writers and artists. During this time, she also wrote and illustrated children’s books, earning international acclaim for her illustrations for a collection of Bertolt Brecht’s verse for children. Shaw’s career included exhibitions of her work by the British Arts Council in Coventry and in Belfast, and receipt of the Kathe Kollwitz Prize in 1981. Later, Shaw parlayed her many journeys, especially throughout Ireland, into several travel books. She completed her autobiography, Irish Berlin, which was published in German in 1990. She died two years later.

Elizabeth Shaw (1920–1992): An Irish Artist's Journey through Art and Activism
Illus-Köhler 19.6.52 Protestkundgebung für André Stil. Am Donnerstag, dem 19. Juni 1952, um 19 Uhr veranstaltet der Deutsche Schriftstellerverband im Klubhaus der Kulturschaffenden, Berlin W8, Jägerstrasse 2, eine Kundgebung für den eingekerkerten französischen Schriftsteller, Friedenspreisträger André Stil. UBz: Vor Beginn der Kundgebung. Ludwig Turek, der bekannte Autor des Films “Die letzte Heuer”, im Gespräch mit der Karirkaturistin Elisabeth Shaw.

Wartime Contributions and Marriage

As World War II unfolded, Elizabeth Shaw felt the call to contribute to the war effort. 1940, she became a mechanic, dedicating herself to supporting the war machinery until 1944. The war years showcased her dedication to a more significant cause and marked a personal turning point. In 1944, she married René Graetz, a Swiss-born sculptor and painter, opening a new chapter in her personal life and artistic career.

The Move to Berlin and Satirical Art

The post-war period saw Elizabeth Shaw and René Graetz embarking on a new adventure as they moved to Berlin-Zehlendorf in 1946. Still recovering from the scars of war, Berlin offered a fertile ground for artists seeking to rebuild and redefine the cultural landscape. Her work marked Shaw’s entry into the satirical art scene in Berlin for the journal Ulenspiegel. After its closure, she contributed to the satirical magazine Eulenspiegel, demonstrating her adaptability and resilience.

In 1950, her artistic repertoire expanded as she drew caricatures for Neues Deutschland. Shaw’s artistic expressions mirrored the evolving socio-political landscape of post-war Germany.

Illustrating the Literary Landscape

Elizabeth Shaw’s artistic prowess wasn’t confined to satirical drawings; she made significant contributions to the literary world through her illustrations. Notably, she created lithographic portraits of 43 members of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in 1959. Her collaborations extended to illustrating stories by eminent figures like Bertolt Brecht, James Krüss, Gerhard Holtz-Baumert, Heinz Kahlau, and Rainer Kirsch. Shaw’s illustrative touch added depth and visual narrative to the literary works she touched.

Political Activism and Comic Artistry

Beyond her illustrative contributions, Elizabeth Shaw actively participated in political movements. Her involvement in political demonstrations, such as the one captured in a photograph with Ludwig Turek in 1952, showcased her commitment to using art for social change. In addition to her political activism, Shaw displayed a lighter side through her monthly comic titled “Sonntagmorgen,” revealing a versatile artist capable of navigating between the serious and the humorous.

Recognition and Awards

Elizabeth Shaw’s artistic brilliance did not go unnoticed. She received numerous accolades for her contributions, including the Art Prize of the German Democratic Republic, the Hans Baltzer Prize, the Leipzig Gutenberg Prize, and the Käthe Kollwitz Prize from the Akademie der Künste Berlin. These honors testify to her profound impact on the artistic and political spheres.

Legacy and Remembrance

Elizabeth Shaw’s legacy extends beyond her artistic creations. A primary school in Berlin-Pankow bears her name, a perpetual tribute to her contributions to the cultural and educational realms. The memorial for Elizabeth Shaw at René Graetz’s grave site stands as a poignant reminder of a life well-lived and a partnership that enriched both the artistic and personal facets of their existence.

Children’s Books: A Heartfelt Legacy

Her contributions to children’s literature stand out among Elizabeth Shaw’s many artistic endeavors. Through a series of heartwarming and imaginative children’s books, she left an enduring legacy. Works like “Der kleine Angsthase,” “Gittis Tomatenpflanze,” and “Die Schildkröte hat Geburtstag” not only entertained young readers but also instilled values and life lessons.

Book Illustrations: Breathing Life into Words

Elizabeth Shaw’s collaborations with literary giants such as Mark Twain, Bertolt Brecht, and James Krüss enriched the reading experience. Her illustrations for “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven,” “Gedichte und Geschichten,” and “Spatzenlügen und andere seltsame Begebenheiten” added visual dimensions to these literary works, creating a harmonious fusion of words and images.

Autobiographical Reflections

Elizabeth Shaw’s autobiographical works, “Eine Feder am Meeresstrand: Urlaubsskizzen aus 4 Badeorten” and “Irish Berlin,” offer glimpses into her personal and creative life. Readers are invited to share the experiences, inspirations, and challenges that shaped her remarkable journey through these reflections.


Elizabeth Shaw’s life story is a testament to the transformative power of art and its ability to transcend geographical and societal borders. From the streets of Belfast to the vibrant cultural scene of Berlin, her journey reflects the evolving tapestry of 20th-century Europe. As we reflect on her life and works, we celebrate an artist, an activist, and a storyteller whose legacy continues to inspire generations.


Newman, Kate, comp. Dictionary of Ulster Biography. Belfast: Queen’s University of Belfast, 1993.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about Elizabeth Shaw

Who was Elizabeth Shaw?

Elizabeth Shaw (May 4, 1920 – June 27, 1992) was an Irish artist, illustrator, and children’s book author known for her work in Germany.

Where was Elizabeth Shaw born?

Elizabeth Shaw was born in Belfast, Ireland, on May 4, 1920.

When and where did Elizabeth Shaw pass away?

Elizabeth Shaw died on June 27, 1992, in Berlin, Germany, at 72.

What was Elizabeth Shaw’s occupation?

Elizabeth Shaw was an artist, illustrator, and author of children’s books.

Can you provide information about Elizabeth Shaw’s early life and education?

Elizabeth Shaw moved to England with her family in 1933. From 1938 to 1940, she studied under Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London.

Did Elizabeth Shaw contribute to the war effort during World War II?

Elizabeth Shaw worked as a mechanic during World War II from 1940 to 1944.

Who was Elizabeth Shaw’s husband, and when did they marry?

Elizabeth Shaw married Swiss-born sculptor and painter René Graetz in 1944.

What notable publications did Elizabeth Shaw contribute to during her career?

Elizabeth Shaw contributed to satirical journals such as Ulenspiegel and Eulenspiegel. She drew caricatures for Neues Deutschland and created lithographic portraits for the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.

What awards did Elizabeth Shaw receive for her work?

Elizabeth Shaw received awards, including the Art Prize of the German Democratic Republic, the Hans Baltzer Prize, the Leipzig Gutenberg Prize, and the Käthe Kollwitz Prize from the Akademie der Künste Berlin.

Is there a school named after Elizabeth Shaw?

Yes, a primary school in Berlin-Pankow is named after Elizabeth Shaw.

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