His formative education was 1912–1914 at Debschitz art school in Munich. He studied at the Bauhaus from 1919 - 1924 and remained working there until 1926 where, along with Kurt Schwerdtfeger, he further developed the Farblichtspiele ('coloured-light-plays'), which used a projection device to produced moving colours on a transparent screen accompanied by music composed by Hirschfeld Mack. It is now regarded as an early form of multimedia. He was a participant, along with the former Bauhaus master Gertrud Grunow, in "den II. Kongreß für Farbe-Ton-Forschung (Hamburg 1. - 5. Oktober 1930)" (Second Congress for Colour-Sound Research, Hamburg). Music and colour theory remained lifelong interests, informing his art work in a number of media, and it was the inspiration for his well-respected and influential teaching.
Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack was born in Frankfurt am Main where he grew up. He attended the Musterschule, a progressive Frankfurt high school for musically gifted children, which still exists today. He was later taught by Hermann Obrist and Wilhelm von Debschitz in Munich, taking art history with Heinrich Woelfflin and Fritz Burger. During the First World War, Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack was an infantry officer.
Hirschfeld Mack completed a craftsman apprenticeship at his father's leather factory before studying at the Teaching and Experimental Studios for Applied and Free Art under Hermann Obrist and Wilhelm von Debschitz in Munich in 1912. He then enrolled at the University of Munich and attended lectures in art history by Heinrich Wölfflin and Fritz Burger. In 1919 he went to study at the Art Academy in Stuttgart under Adolf Hölzel (colour theory) and Ida Kerkovius, but later the same year enrolled at the Bauhaus, where he studied under Johannes Itten, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, and was apprenticed to Lyonel Feininger in the print workshop, obtaining a Bauhaus graduate diploma in lithography in 1924. Itten planned to offer a course devoted to colour at the Bauhaus, but as he was sacked before it could be taught Hirschfeld Mack delivered the first dedicated course on colour (as an unofficial course) in the winter semester of 1922-23. He remained at the Bauhaus until 1926 and conducted experiments in light projection, following Kurt Schwerdtfeger in developing the "Farbenlichtspiele" (colour-light play). In 1963, while visiting Europe Hirschfeld was invited by the Bauhaus-Archiv, Darmstadt, Germany, to reconstruct the instrument which was filmed for the archive.
In 1926, Hirschfeld Mack began teaching art in the Free School in Wickersdorf. In 1929 he was as a teacher of colour and general morphology at the University of Craft and Architecture in Weimar, the school which was established in Weimar after the Bauhaus left in 1925, and reopen in Dessau in 1926. He then became professor at the Pedagogical Academy in Frankfurt (Oder). He taught at the University of Kiel from 1932 until the university was closed by the Nazis in 1933. He moved in 1935 to the Jöde-Schule/Güntherschule in Berlin and taught the construction of simple musical instruments. Hirschfeld Mack had married Elenor Wirth in 1917 and entered the Society of Friends (better-known as Quakers), but because of his part-Jewish heritage fled the Nazis and emigrated to England in 1936.
Upon arrival Hirschfeld Mack taught art for the Subsistence Production Society, a Depression-era sustenance program of the Quakers in the Eastern Valley of Monmouthshire in South Wales. Elenor (d.1953) remained in Germany with the two youngest daughters, while his eldest, Margarita, followed him into English exile. His second daughter Ursel (17) committed suicide in Germany in 1937. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, included his work in its Bauhaus retrospective of 1938.
In 1940 Hirschfeld Mack was deported to Australia as an "enemy alien" on the ship HMT Dunera, spending time in internment camps in Hay, Orange and Tatura, before being granted Australian citizenship. Imprisonment and the longing for freedom were the theme of his small, stark, poignant relief prints of this period, including the woodcut Desolation, Internment Camp, Hay 1941. He was mentor to other internees including Erwin Fabian. His release from detention was secured in April 1942 through the intercession of Dr J.R. Darling, principal of Geelong Church of England Grammar School in Victoria, who appointed Hirschfeld Mack as the Art master. "Dr Hirschfeld", as he was known at the school, was held in high regard students and staff alike, and proved to be an inspirational teacher, consistently propounding the Bauhaus principles of self-knowledge, economy of material and form, and reform of society through art. Hirschfeld introduced the boys to such things as colour-coded guitars and colour 'organs'.
Hirschfeld was amongst a number of European wartime refugees who contributed to the renewal of Australian Art. He was also a guest lecturer at the University of Melbourne, where he had exhibited his work in 1946. He showed also at the Peter Bray Gallery, Melbourne, in 1953. In 1949-1950, 1958 and 1964 he visited Europe. When Walter Gropius came to lecture at the Royal Australian Institute of Architects convention in Sydney in 1954 he made a special trip to Geelong Grammar School to visit his former colleague. In 1955 he married Miss Olive Russell, a leading Quaker whom he had met at Tatura, and teacher of social studies at the Melbourne Church of England Girls Grammar School. In 1957 he retired from Geelong Grammar School and they moved to Ferny Creek, Victoria.
In 1960, Clement Meadmore selected works from Hirschfeld Mack's own collection to curate the first significant exhibition of Bauhaus ideas and work in Australia, "The Bauhaus: Attributes and Influences", at Gallery A in Melbourne (July–August 1961). Included were Hirschfeld Mack's own works and colour-coded musical instruments and proof prints he had made for other Bauhaus artists as well as numbers of works given to him during his period at the Bauhaus. After Hirschfeld Mack's death, Gallery A held a commemorative exhibition of his watercolours.
Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack died on 7 January 1965 at Allambie Heights, a suburb of Sydney.Work represented in Bauhaus: 1919-1925 MOMA New York 1938
University of Melbourne, 1946
Solo exhibition Peter Bray Gallery, 435 Bourke St., Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1953
Memorial exhibition at University Gallery Melbourne, 1981
The Great Australian Art Exhibition 1788-1988 Art Gallery of South Australia, 1988
He produced an explanatory text of the Farbenlichtspiele in 1923, also an article, "Reflected-Light Compositions…" (1925) In retirement in 1963 he published The Bauhaus: An Introductory Survey.
The Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack Collection was presented Melbourne University in 1971 and 1980 by Hirschfeld Mack's widow, Olive Hirschfeld. The collection contains over six hundred works by Hirschfeld Mack, including almost three hundred drawings, over two hundred prints, ninety-one watercolours and sixty-nine paintings. In addition the University of Melbourne Archives houses material including correspondence, teaching aids, drawings, photographs and slides.
Olive Hirschfeld also donated a collection of her late husband's paintings, prints and drawings to the National Gallery of Australia, and numbers of his works, many from his internment at nearby Tatura, can be found at the Shepparton Regional Art Gallery
In 2008, the Institute of English Philology at the Free University of Berlin (Institut für Englische Philologie der Freien Universität Berlin (FU)) set up a Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack Visiting Chair of Australian Studies . The professorship is named after Hirschfeld-Mack, "to stress the interdisciplinary nature of its teachers, their commitment to the role of culture in the public sphere, and the central transcultural German-Australian aspect of the project." The chair is funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Australian Embassy in Berlin.
Hirschfeld-Mack professors in Berlin included: Dr. Stephen Muecke, Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Technology Sydney; Dr. Philip Mead, Professor of Australian Literature at the University of Western Australia; Dr. Devleena Ghosh, Associate Professor in Arts and Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney; Dr. Lynn McCredden, Professor of Literary Studies at Deakin University; Dr. Simon During, Australian Professorial Fellow at the University of Queensland; Dr. Anna Haebich, Distinguished Professor of Human Rights Education at Curtin University; Dr. Peter Otto, Professor of English and Theatre at the University of Melbourne;Dr. Chandani Lokuge, Associate Professor in Creative Writing at Monash University; Dr. Verity Burgmann, Professor of Political Science at the University of Melbourne; and Dr. Andrew Milner, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Monash University.
In 2010 DAAD established, in the reverse direction, a Hirschfeld-Mack Visiting Chair for German Studies at the German Department at the University of Western Australia. Through this reciprocal visiting professor program the exchange between the Australian and German higher education system is intensified. The first Hirschfeld-Mack professors in Perth were the Germanists Dr. Matthias N. Lorenz, University of Bielefeld (2010), and Prof. Dr. Sven Kramer, University of Lüneburg (2011).