Marie Neurath Collection
Reference: MARIE NEURATH COLLECTION Date: c. 1948-1971 Extent: c. 170 volumes
Marie Neurath (1898-1986) was a pioneer of graphic design who produced hundreds of educational children’s books.
She was born Marie Reidemeister in Braunschweig, Germany. She studied maths and physics at the University of Göttingen. In 1924, while still a student, she travelled to Vienna, where she first met Otto Neurath, her future husband and long-time collaborator.
At this time, Otto was involved in Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria and had established a museum, variously called the Museum for Housing and City Planning and the Museum for Social and Economic Affairs. Much of the work done by the museum’s team related to infographic design.
Marie joined the museum’s staff in March 1925, with the job title “transformer”. This relates to the purpose of their infographic design, to analyse complex ideas and concepts and produce corresponding simple visuals. The early iterations of their work were under the name of the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics.
This work was informed by socialism and Viennese politics of the time; Otto and his team saw their infographics as a way of democratising information by using images rather than relying on text. This was in part inspired by Charles Kay Ogden’s Basic English – a mere 850-word version of the language that could be learned in days. Ogden’s philosophy was that this would be a peaceable alternative. Otto and Marie saw images as the logical next step, removing language altogether.
Work came to a halt in 1934 when war broke out in Austria: it was the Civil War and the fascists had defeated the socialists. As a consequence, Otto, Marie and the staff closed the museum and fled Vienna for the Netherlands. With the need for a new name for the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics, Marie found out in the form of an acronym, I.S.O.T.Y.PE. or the International System of Typographic Picture Education.
The Isotype work was developed in the Hague for some years, but the team were forced again to become refugees in 1940 when the Second World War made the Netherlands unsafe for Jews such as Otto. Marie and Otto crossed the English Channel together; they were interned in several camps and prisons – together and separately – as “enemy aliens” for ten months. When released, they got married and moved, together, to Oxford. There they founded the Isotype Institute.
At the Institute the pair worked together on projects including propaganda films for the Ministry of Information and a series of educational pictorial children’s books. Otto died in 1945, having started sketches for two of these children’s books, Tips for Tots and Just Boxes.
After Otto’s death, Marie moved from Oxford to London, where she continued her and Otto’s work on educational children’s books and remained until her death in 1986. In 1948, Max Parrish published the first of the Isotype Institute’s books for children. Max Parrish was Marie’s long-time editor for the years that followed. With a team of illustrators, Marie continued to work on Isotype children’s books for a further twenty years. The books themselves were mostly concerned with scientific subjects – biology, machinery, geology – but covered a range of topics, all in the distinctive Isotype style.
Overall, Marie and her team of illustrators produced more than 80 individual children’s books, most of which are in our collection. We also hold translations of Marie’s books in several languages.
- The collection is fully catalogued and searchable on the online catalogue.
- Read Professor Sue Walker’s detailed exploration of The first great inventions (1951), written as part of The MERL’s 70th anniversary project, 51 Voices.