Bauhaus Design School (1919-1933)
OF VISUAL ART
Bauhaus, the German word for "house of building", refers to the Staatliches Bauhaus, a German school of design founded in Weimar by Walter Gropius (1883-1969) which functioned from 1919 to 1933 and which taught a fusion of art and crafts. It became renowned for its modernist approach to art education, which scrapped the traditional divide between "fine" and "applied" arts, and redefined the relationship between art, design and industrial manufacturing techniques. In particular, its mission according to Gropius was to conceive and create the new building of the future, combining architecture, sculpture, and painting in a single form, which required the teaching of a new guild of craftsmen without the class-distinctions separating craftsmen and artists. In short, the Bauhaus trained students to be equally comfortable with design, craft and methods of mass production.
The school operated in three successive locations (1) Weimar 1919-1925; (2) Dessau 1925-1932; (3) Berlin 1932-1933), under three different directors (Walter Gropius 1919-1927; Hannes Meyer 1927-1930; Mies van der Rohe 1930-1933), until it was finally closed by the Nazi government. Despite a series of constant changes to its location, teaching staff, syllabus and educational aesthetic, the Bauhaus school succeeded in developing an international reputation for innovative work in the field of architecture, interior design, industrial design and handicraft.
DESIGNS, ARTS &
The list of professors and other staff
members who taught art, design and
handcrafts at the Staatliches Bauhaus
in Weimar, Dessau or Berlin,
include the following artists of note:
- Josef Albers (1888-1976)
- Herbert Bayer (1900-85)
- Max Bill (1908-94)
- Marianne Brandt (1893-1983)
- Marcel Breuer (1902-81)
- Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956)
- Naum Gabo (1890-1977)
- Johannes Itten (1888-1967)
- Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
- Paul Klee (1879-1940)
- Gerhard Marcks (1889-1981)
- Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
- Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
- Georg Muche (1895-1987)
- Hinnerk Scheper (1897-1957)
- Oskar Schlemmer (1888-1943)
- Joost Schmidt (1893-1948)
- Lothar Schreyer (1886-1966)
- Gunta Stolzl (1897-1983)
ARTISTS SINCE 1800
Bauhaus was born against a back-drop of radical experimentation in all the arts (see for instance Dada), and a new desire for art to meet the needs of society (as propounded by the English Arts and Crafts Movement founded by the medievalist designer William Morris) especially in industrial and interior design. Fortunately, since 1907, the Deutscher Werkbund (the authoritative Association of German national designers) had been actively promoting the reconciliation of craft and industry, so several of the design innovations traditionally associated with the Bauhaus were already partly developed in Germany before the Bauhaus was established. One of the leading figures in the Werkbund was a young architect named Walter Gropius. Himself strongly influenced by the architect, professor and pioneer of industrial Peter Behrens (1868-1940), Gropius believed passionately in the unity of visual arts, crafts and architecture, and sought every opportunity to include specific creative elements into his building designs, as exemplified by his collaborative work on the AEG Turbine Hall in Berlin and the Fagus Factory. Bauhaus instructors were also influenced by modernist designs coming out of America, notably the "Prairie School" architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), as exemplified by Unity Temple (1908), Robie House (1910) and Fallingwater (1936-37). Bauhaus ideas
In 1919 Walter Gropius merges the Weimar Institute of Fine Arts (Hochschule fur Bildende Kunst) and the Weimar School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule) to establish the Bauhaus. To start with, Gropius recruits the Swiss painter Johannes Itten, the German-American painter Lyonel Feininger, and the German sculptor Gerhard Marcks, who along with himself becomes the full-time teaching staff of the school. The following year he adds the German painter, sculptor and designer Oskar Schlemmer and Swiss painter Paul Klee, and in 1922, the Russian painter Wasily Kandinsky, and (temporarily) the Russian Constructivist artist and architect El Lissitzky. (Several of these instructors are masters of concrete art - geometric abstraction - including painting, printmaking and design.)
In his prospectus, Gropius formulates three principal aims: (1) To unite all arts to allow painters, sculptors and craftsmen to work harmoniously on cooperative projects; (2) To raise the status of craftsmen practicing applied art and decorative art to the same level as those involved in fine art; (3) To maintain close liaison with the leaders of the main crafts and industries in the country, to ensure the school operated in line with their basic requirements.
Gropius believes strongly in the Gothic and Renaissance tradition that architectural building work is the key framework for all creative activity. For example, he holds up cathedrals as the perfect examples of artistic collaboration between architects, designers, sculptors, painters, and those craftsmen involved in stained glass, wood-carving, mosaic art, metalwork, illuminated manuscripts, decorative plasterwork and stonework. In his opinion, architects, painters, sculptors and other craftsmen must once again come to understand the composite artistic nature of a building, rather than continue to be distracted by the production of "salon art". It is to be Bauhaus' mission to train a "universal designer" able to work with equal creativity in the fields of architecture, handcrafts, or industry. Gropius duly turns Bauhaus into a workshop-based school, with classes directed jointly by both artists and master-craftsmen to eliminate the standard distinction between fine and applied arts.
Another important influence at Weimar is Johannes Itten, who teaches the "preliminary course" (Vorkurs). All students are obliged to begin their studies with a 6-month course which covers the principles of form, colour and the attributes of various materials, and encourages participants to develop their creativity. Itten is essentially a "fine arts" man, whose pedagogical ideas are strongly influenced by German Expressionism, notably the Der Blaue Reiter group in Munich and the Austrian Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980). Itten's influence leads to the hiring of Wassily Kandinsky (founder of Der Blaue Reiter), after which Itten is soon forced to resign. He is succeeded by the Hungarian designer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who (with Gropius' approval) changes the Vorkurs course to reflect a stronger applied arts aesthetic.
Bauhaus at Dessau 1925-1932
Unfortunately Meyer is a highly political figure. A committed communist, he introduces a strong political tone into the teaching syllabus. Students become active in left-wing politics. In addition Meyer he tries to institute an exchange program with Vkhutemas, the Russian state art school and equivalent of Bauhaus. This provokes further outrage from Nazi (NSDAP) and conservative politicians.
Bauhaus appliance models are used for mass production by two light manufacturers. Other textile manufacturers do the same with several Bauhaus weaving designs. The number of Bauhaus students rises to 166; the Bauhaus Circle of Friends now numbers 460 members.
Van der Rohe restructures the syllabus into five sections: building, interior design, weaving, photography, and fine arts. The program has a more integrated timetable, and is shortened to five semesters. Architecture classes become more important, and are strongly oriented towards aesthetic issues. The importance of industrial design, is downgraded.
Bauhaus at Berlin 1932-1933
Using funds from the sale of Bauhaus royalties, Mies van der Rohe rents a disused telephone factory in Steglitz Berlin, where he reopens the school as a private institute. With 14 students, together with staff members Kandinsky, Josef Albers, Hilberseimer, Reich, and Peterhans, it survives for about 6 months until the Nazis finally close it down in April 1933. Mies van der Rohe is expelled from Germany.
BAUHAUS CREATIVE OUTPUT
Although the Bauhaus promoted a certain style of popular standardized architectural design - ideas shared by several other professional architects across Germany - it did not involve itself in worker housing estates. The development of large-scale housing projects for workers was not the main priority of Gropius, Meyer or Mies. This type of architectural work was actually done by non-Bauhaus city architects like Hans Poelzig, Bruno Taut, and especially Ernst May, who responded energetically to the promise of a "minimal dwelling" written into the new Weimar Constitution and went on to build thousands of socially progressive housing units in Desden, Berlin and Frankfurt, respectively.
The printmaking workshop only operated when the school was located in Weimar. Its artistic director was Lyonel Feininger, while its supervising craftsman was the lithographer Carl Zaubitzer. Open to use by both staff and students, it produced Feininger's "Twelve woodcuts" as well as a Portfolio of the State Bauhaus School, and started a New European Graphics project highlighting all the major tendencies of the international avant-garde - from Futurism to Dada, Constructivism, and Surrealism. In addition, the print workshop took on outside commissions such as lithograph-production for Piet Mondrian and Alexander Rodchenko.
The workshop was also an early pioneer
of typography and graphic art, through
its poster art and typography designs
for various internal projects. These included production of Bauhaus
postcards - widely distributed as original graphic miniatures - whose
typeface and image became an important advertising medium for the school.
At Weimar, in keeping with the focus on architecture, students worked mainly on architectural sculpture. Thus for example in 1921-22, the wood workshop created reliefs and wooden cravings for the Adolf Sommerfeld house designed by Gropius and Meyer, while in 1922-23 the stone workshop produced wall decorations for the Bauhaus' own school buildings.
If the initial emphasis at Weimar was on free artistic work, sculpture classes at Dessau concentrated more on educational aspects. Joost Schmidt's workshop provided an introductory course in sculpture, while students also explored stage design, the creation of maquettes as well as architectural sculpture.
Graphic designs for a range of decorative arts were widely explored by students, after the earlier example of William Morris in England. Interestingly, the most profitable tangible product of the Bauhaus was its wallpaper. Also, as we have seen, Bauhaus weaving models were adopted by leading manufacturers for mass-production, as were several of its electic light fittings. Bauhaus also excelled in modern furniture design. The cantilever chair by Dutch designer Mart Stam, and the Wassily Chair, designed by Marcel Breuer are two notable examples.
Most art historians acknowledge that the Bauhaus approach to design had a major impact on art and architecture throughout Western Europe, North America and Israel, not least because so many of its influential teachers fled Germany and took up teaching posts abroad. Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, influencing the likes of I.M. Pei, Lawrence Halprin and Paul Rudolph, among others; Herbert Bayer organized and designed a major exhibition of Bauhaus work at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1938-9; Mies van der Rohe relocated to Chicago, where he enjoyed the patronage of Philip Johnson (1906-2005) - one of the most influential American architects of his day, with whom he later designed the landmark Seagram Building - and became one of the leading figures in American architecture; Moholy-Nagy also settled in Chicago and set up the New Bauhaus school with philanthropist Walter Paepcke. Bauhaus printmaker and painter Werner Drewes taught at Columbia University and Washington University St. Louis, while Josef Albers lectured at the experimental and influential Black Mountain College, before heading the department of architecture and design at Yale University. He duly became world famous for his non-objective art - namely, his Homage to the Square series of paintings.
- Bauhaus-Archiv, Museum fur Gesaltung,
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