The Bauhaus 1919 - 1933
The Bauhaus was not an art movement but was a German school of art, design and architecture, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919. It attempted to achieve reconciliation between the aesthetics of design and the more commercial demands of industrial mass production. The Bauhaus was structured to challenge traditional hierarchies of of the arts, and to place fine art, architecture, and design on an equal footing to promote a closer cooperation between the practice of ‘fine’ and ‘applied’ art and architecture.
The Bauhaus style became one of the most influential currents in Modernist architecture and modern design and had a profound influence upon subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography.
The Bauhaus is included in this program because of the impact it had on art and several of the masters were key artists in the modern art story - in particular Wassily Kandinsky, Joseph Alders, László Moholy-Nagy and Paul Klee. These artists experimented with art's relationship to colour, music and other senses during their period teaching at the Bauhaus.
The Bauhaus’s name referred to the medieval Bauhütten or Masons’ lodges. The school re-established workshop training, as opposed to academic studio education.
The Bauhaus school welcomed artists and artisans alike and encouraged them to work together on their artistic pursuits. The core of the teaching took place in a series of workshops in which students experimented with making art using a variety of materials. There were never more than 200 students at a time. Although at the outset the school took women as students on the same basis as men, by 1920 Gropius was attempting to force women from the Vorkurs (the six-month preliminary course) to the weaving, pottery or bookbinding workshops, and he prevented their admission to study architecture.
Bauhaus teachers started with a very broad agenda and depending on the interests and abilities of the teachers and students, refined the curriculum along the way.
The first course was “intended to offer an introduction of to issues of colour, form, and materials considered fundamental to all visual expression, the preliminary course erased the boundaries between craft and fine-art education”.
The Bauhaus was not intended to be elitist, and the designs were encouraged to be utilitarian - with simplicity being a key feature. The Bauhaus promoted the production of arts and crafts, first hand-made, and then shifted, around 1923, toward a more industrial, mass-production aesthetic, now generally associated with the Bauhaus. It was around this time that the German government expected that the Bauhaus would conduct an exhibition to demonstrate what had been achieved over the past four years. Gropius introduced the now famous theme used for the Bauhaus Ausstellung exhibition "Art and technology, a new unity: technology does not need art, but art does need technology".
The Bauhaus was active in Weimar from 1919 to 1925. In 1925 it moved from Weimar to Dessau, where Gropius designed a new building to house the school. This building contained many features that later became hallmarks of modernist architecture, including steel-frame construction, a glass curtain wall, and an asymmetrical, pinwheel plan, throughout which Gropius distributed studio, classroom, and administrative space for maximum efficiency and spatial logic. The school moved to Berlin from 1932 to 1933, when it was closed down by the Nazi authorities.
Sources: MoMA, Bauhaus on-line.
Joost Schmidt, Bauhaus Poster, 1923
Fritz Schliefert, Bauhaus Poster, 1923
Key Bauhaus Figures
Walter Gropius: Architect, industrial designer and teacher of German birth. Founder of the Bauhaus in 1919, Gropius explained this vision for a union of art and design in the Proclamation of the Bauhaus (1919), which described a utopian craft guild combining architecture, sculpture, and painting into a single creative expression. Gropius developed a craft-based curriculum that would produce artisans and designers capable of creating useful and beautiful objects appropriate to this new system of living.
Johannes Itten: Swiss expressionist painter, designer, teacher, writer and theorist associated with the Bauhaus (Staatliche Bauhaus) school. Under the direction of German architect Walter Gropius, Itten was part of the core of the Weimar Bauhaus. Until 1923, he was both director of the preliminary course which he had developed independently for the introductory semester and master of form of all the workshops except for the ceramic, bookbinding and printing workshops. Itten made a significant contribution to the Bauhaus by promoting the Mazdaznan cult, which spans religions and philosophies. He left the Bauhaus in 1923, not agreeing with a move to industrialised design.
László Moholy-Nagy: Painter, sculptor, photographer, designer, film maker, theorist and teacher of Hungarian birth. In March 1923, Walter Gropius appointed him as a master at the Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar as a replacement for Itten. Moholy-Nagy had a quite untroubled relationship with machines and industry, claiming that technology was a reality of the 20th century. From 1923 to 1925, Moholy-Nagy was the director of the preliminary course and head of the metal workshop in Weimar. From 1925 to 1928, he resumed the same posts in Dessau. Together with Walter Gropius, Moholy-Nagy began to publish the series of Bauhaus Books. He was highly influenced by constructivism and a strong advocate of the integration of technology and industry into the arts. His teaching was pervaded with scientific content, concentrating on constructive problem-solving far more than had been the case in Itten’s day.
Josef Albers: Painter, printmaker, sculptor, designer, writer and teacher. He was among the first students of the Bauhaus to be appointed a master (in 1925) and was one of the most influential teachers of this renowned course. Albers was the longest-serving member of the Bauhaus when it was closed under pressure from the Nazis in 1933. Albers was asked in the same year to teach art at the newly formed Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and became one of the best-known and most influential art teachers in the USA. All of Albers’s work points to the beauty of simple geometry and technical proficiency.
Wassily Kandinsky: Russian painter, printmaker, stage designer, decorative artist and theorist. In June 1922, Walter Gropius appointed Wassily Kandinsky to the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar, where he taught until its closure in Berlin in 1933. From 1922 to 32 he taught the abstract form and analytical drawing component of the preliminary course At the Bauhaus in Dessau, he taught abstract form elements and analytical drawing in the preliminary course from 1925 to 1932. From the winter semester of 1926/27, he was the head of painting and from 1927, he directed the free painting workshop and free painting class. In 1926, he published the important Bauhaus book Point and Line to Plane. From 1932 to 1933 at the Bauhaus in Berlin, he was head of the preliminary course classes in abstract form elements and analytical drawing and of the free painting class.
Paul Klee: Swiss painter, draughtsman, printmaker, teacher and writer. Klee was director of a number of the workshops over the years, including book binding, free sculpture and artistic design, design theory for weaving and elemental design theory in the preliminary course from 1921 to 30. He is regarded as a major theoretician among modern artists and as a master of humour and mystery. In much of his work, he aspired to achieve a naive and untutored quality, but his art is also among the most cerebral of any of the 20th century. Klee’s wide-ranging intellectual curiosity is evident in an art profoundly informed by structures and themes drawn from music, nature and poetry.
Lyonel Feininger: American printmaker (1871 – 1956 New York, USA) (Bauhaus years 1919 – 1933). An established artist in Weimar, Feininger’s woodcut image of a cathedral is the main illustration of Gropius’ founding manifesto for the Bauhaus in 1919. One of the school's first masters, he directed the printmaking workshop until 1925. In 1921, a folder with 12 woodcuts by Feininger was the first publication to be printed at the Bauhaus Weimar.
Marianne Brandt: German sculptor, photographer, designer of industrial products including metal and glass. Brandt came to the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar in 1924 and attended the preliminary course taught by Josef Albers and László Moholy-Nagy, as well as classes by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky and in the metal workshop with László Moholy-Nagy. In 1926, she had already designed the first lighting fixtures for the Bauhaus Building in Dessau. From the summer semester of 1927, she was in charge of technical experiments in lighting in the metal workshop. From May 1928 to 1st July 1929, she was the Director of the metal workshop.
Gertrud Grunow: German musician. As early as 1914, Grunow was exploring the fundamental relationships of sound, colour and movement. In 1919, she held her first lectures on these topics in Berlin. From 1919 to 1923, she taught her course on the Theory of harmony at the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar.
Gunta Stölzl: German weaver. In 1924, she was commissioned by Johannes Itten to set up a weaving workshop (Ontos Workshops) in Herrliberg near Zurich and also collaborated on the development of a dye works. From 1925 to 1926, Stölzl was the master of form in the weaving workshop at the Bauhaus Dessau. She subsequently became the director of the weaving workshop from 1926 to 1930/31. Among other projects, Stölzl developed textile covers for some of the furniture designed by Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus Dessau.
Walter Gropius, Diagram of the Bauhaus curriculum, 1922
All Bauhaus students were required to work through the segments of the curriculum wheel, passing from the basic (preliminary) course to the vital core at its centre – contributing to the development of the total building.
Every Bauhaus student started with the preliminary course which was a period of creative experiment. Through repeated exercises they were trained to 'unlearn' rigid habits gained, for example, from specialising as a painter. It was considered that such habits could block perception by emphasising what a person saw over other sensations, and by building up routine ways of looking. The students would the 'relearn' through their own experience. Unlearning focused on the body and on sensory experiment, reconnecting body and mind. Albers called this ‘seeing by doing’.
The preliminary course was influenced by Asian philosophies which don't perceive a split between body and mind. Itten began his classes by focusing on the whole body. He would lead the students in stretching and breathing exercises similar to those done in Yoga. After this they would do a quick-fire expressive drawing exercise to wake up the mind and senses.
For example, they would be asked to draw a dramatic scene, such as a storm. The idea was not to draw what they saw directly, but make what they saw flow through the whole body, and let that feeling drive what they made or drew.
Itten would also train his students’ sensory perception by having them touch a range of textures with their eyes closed. ‘In a short time’, he wrote, ‘their sense of touch improved to an astonishing degree’. Moholy-Nagy, who later taught the preliminary course, developed touch panels – ‘charts’ of textures – that his students used to test their responses to different sensations. He argued that touch is the primary sense, but the most neglected by the language of art, and particularly under threat in modern times.
The core of the advanced courses was the work in the workshops, with the core being carpentry, weaving, ceramics, wall painting and metalwork. Others included the sculpture, glass painting and bookbinding workshops and the graphic print workshop.
Walter Gropius (1883 – 1969), founder of the Bauhaus School in 1919, had a vision for how the arts – painting, sculpture, design, theatre, weaving, architecture – should work together to improve the way we live. His basic inclination was directed towards finding a new place in society for the artist who had lost his roots in the 19th century, to enable him to collaborate in a socially constructive way on the shaping of reality. This view was strengthened as the widespread pathos of the immediate post-war period soon gave way to a general disenchantment that led people to seek what was socially necessary and practicable
Gropius believed that to change things, creative workers needed to learn in a new way. He was active in the education debates of his day and was influenced by the English artist and activist William Morris (1834 – 96), whose believed that the arts could significantly improve people’s experience of life. When thinking about combining crafts and artistry, Morris looked back to the mediaeval guild system, where craftsmen worked together on improving their skills and joint creative production.
Feininger’s cubist woodcut, "Cathedral", was made in 1919 for the cover of Walter Gropius’s manifesto and programme for the Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar. Here, Gropius and Feininger referred to the “miracle of the Gothic cathedral” as a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art). The name “Bauhaus” subsequently evolved as an allusion to the medieval masons’ guilds.
Lyonel Feininger, Cathedral, Cover for the Manifesto and Programme of the Staatliche Bauhause, April 1919
Art and innovation at the Bauhaus.
Geometric shapes came to play a dominant role in Wassily Kandinsky’s pictorial vocabulary at the Bauhaus. The artist, who was interested in uncovering a universal aesthetic language, increased his use of overlapping, flat planes and clearly delineated forms. This change was due, in part, to his familiarity with the Supremasist work of Kazimir Malevich and the art of the Constructivists. Kandinsky’s turn toward geometric forms was also likely a testament to the influence of industry and developments in technology.
Many of Paul Klee's works of the early Bauhaus period explore the expressive qualities of different kinds of line, tone, colour, and composition. once described his technique as "taking a line for a walk." He began producing subtle and technically complex lithographs in which he seemed to delight in fingerprints and other spontaneous effects. He also experimented with spray- and oil-transfer techniques, the latter being a carbon-paper tracing process of his own invention.
László Moholy-Nagy's interest in qualities of space, time, and light endured throughout his career and transcended the very different media he employed. Whether he was painting or creating "photograms" (photographs made without the use of a camera or negative) or crafting sculptures made of transparent Plexiglass, he was ultimately interested in studying how all these basic elements interact. He believed that humanity could only defeat the fracturing experience of modernity - only feel whole again - if it harnessed the potential of new technologies. Artists should transform into designers, and through specialization and experimentation find the means to answer humanity's needs.
Josef Albers had come to his own brand of abstraction over the course of many years. By 1908, he had discovered Matisse and Cézanne, and in Berlin he encountered work by Munch, van Gogh, the German Expressionists, Delaunay, and the Italian Futurists. Albers began experimenting with abstract principles and unusual materials about 1923. His designs of furniture, objects of utility, and also typographs, linocuts and lithographs reflected the idea that all artistic activities should be determined by both the object's intended use and the material. He began to explore mathematical proportions as a way to achieve balance and unity in his art and investigated colour theory (for which he later became well known) and composition.
Suggested Videos and Reading
You may wish to view this Barbican video about the Bauhaus:
You may be interested in this interactive by MoMA about the Bauhaus: http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2009/bauhaus/Main.html#
Suggested Videos and Reading
Video by the Tate Modern about Alders and László Moholy-Nagy: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/albers-and-moholy-nagy-bauhaus-new-world
Thinking about the utilitarian approach of the Bauhaus, design either a piece of furniture or clothing that, whilst being aesthetically appealing, is also practical and could be easily produced.