Josef Hartwig completed an apprenticeship as a stonemason from 1893 to 1897. As early as 1897, when he was just 17 years old, he worked on the interior design of the well-known Elvira photo studio in Munich, which was designed by August Endell. He studied under Balthasar Schmidt and others at the Munich academy from 1904 to 1908. From 1914, he worked as a stonemason in Berlin (gravestones).
As a master of works in the stone and wood sculpture workshop, he worked at the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar from 1921 to 1925. During this time, he collaborated with Oskar Schlemmer on the interior design of the Bauhaus Building and designed the Bauhaus Chess Set in 1923. Other works from this era include the sculpture "Eule" (Owl) of 1922. After the Bauhaus closed in Weimar, Hartwig went on to the school of art in Frankfurt and taught sculpture there until 1945. During the National Socialist era in Germany he was a member of the NSDAP. He worked as a master in the restoration workshop of the Städtische Skulpturengalerie (municipal sculpture gallery) in Frankfurt am Main until his death in 1956.
Bothe, Rolf; Hahn, Peter; von Tavel, Hans Christoph (Hg.): Das frühe Bauhaus und Johannes Itten, Ostfildern-Ruit 1994;
Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin (Hg.): Bauhaus-Möbel. Eine Legende wird besichtigt, Berlin 2003.