Bauhaus Design School
History, Teachers: Architecture, Applied Arts, Crafts, Industrial Designs.

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Bauhaus School (1925).

Bauhaus Design School (1919-1933)


History of The Bauhaus
Printmaking/Graphic Art
Applied Arts
Bauhaus Legacy

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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.

Lamps (1930s) Bauhaus influenced.

For other design movements, see:
Art Nouveau (1895-1910)
Art Deco (1920s/30s)
For details of late 19th-century and
early 20th century art movements,
see: Modern Art.
For details of modernist styles
see: Modern Art Movements.

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)

For details of the best modern
painters, since 1800, see:
Famous Painters.

Bauhaus Origins

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


Weimar 1919-1925

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.


At first, art tuition begins in the teacher's classrooms, while craft courses take place in the workshops: initial courses include metalwork, bookbinding, weaving, printmaking, and painting. No architectural class is offered, though individual tuition is available.

Further workshops are added: for wood and stone sculpture, pottery, cabinet-making, glass painting, and wall-painting. By now the curriculum broadly corresponds to a craft apprenticeship.

Theo van Doesburg, the leader of the Dutch De Stijl design movement, lectures at the Bauhaus and casts doubt on the expressionist tendencies and crafts orientation of the school. He advocates a new concept of constructivist design, capable of efficient mass-production.

Gropius responds by restructuring his original concept of the Bauhaus. Henceforth the focus is to be on creating designs to mesh with industrial production. The first Bauhaus exhibition of works by students opens in April. At this time, the school's weaving and pottery workshops play a lead role since they are the only ones making a significant contribution towards the upkeep of the school through the sale of their works.

The Zurich Museum for Arts and Crafts holds an exhibition with works from the Bauhaus workshops. In addition the school participates at the Leipzig Fair showcasing its woven materials, ceramics, and metalwork. In August, a week of exhibitions, lectures and other events are held at the Bauhaus. The school receives widespread publicity for its workshop products, architecture by Gropius - including the experimental house "Am Horn" in Weimar which is equipped by the school's workshops. Gropius invents a new Bauhaus slogan "Art and technology - a new unity" - reflecting the primacy of mechanized production, which becomes the new watchword for all Bauhaus activities.

An uncertain year dominated by political wranglings over funding issues. Bauhaus is still dependent on public funds from the state of Thuringia. In February 1924, the newly elected Nationalist government cuts the school's funding in half, resulting in its eventual closure a year later. Meanwhile Gropius organizes the establishment of the "Circle of Friends of the Bauhaus" to offer support for the design school. Its members include leading figures such as Marc Chagall, Albert Einstein, and Gerhart Hauptmann.

Bauhaus at Dessau 1925-1932

The Bauhaus reopens in Dessau, in a group of buildings designed by Gropius. In March, the town council of Dessau, adopts the Bauhaus as a municipal school. Classes start at the beginning of April. Neither the pottery nor the wood and stone sculpture workshops are replicated in Dessau. Gropius announces a new scientific design program to create a modern housing development embracing everything from the simplest household item to the complete structure. In June, the first "Bauhausbucher" (Bauhaus books) are published by Gropius, Moholy-Nagy, Klee, Kandinsky, and Piet Mondrian, to be owned by a newly formed company, the Bauhaus Co. Ltd.

In October, the status of the school is officially upgraded; art masters are promoted to professors; from now on the Bauhaus carries the subtitle "School of Design". The Bauhaus training course now equates to university study and leads to a Bauhaus Diploma. In December, the spectacular new Bauhaus school building is opened in Dessau designed by Gropius and equipped by the school's own workshops. The school, built in a style very similar to designs by Gropius's contemporary Le Corbusier (1887-1965), rapidly attracts international attention and renown.

In April, a department for architecture is set up under the professorship of Swiss architect Hannes Meyer (1889-1954), a partner in Gropius' architecture practice.

Gropius resigns as Bauhaus director to concentrate on his own architectural practice, he names Meyer as his successor. This brings mixed results. On the one hand, Meyer oversees the acquisition by the Bauhaus of its two most important building commissions: five blocks of apartments in the city of Dessau, and the head office of the Federal School of the German Trade Unions (ADGB) in Bernau. Meyer's highly rational methodology together with the use of standardized architectural components to reduce costs, proves an attractive combination, and Bauhaus duly makes its first profit the following year.

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.

In the Spring, the Basle Museum of Arts and Crafts showcases a representative sample of work by Bauhaus students. In July, the workshops for metal, cabinet making, and wall-painting are combined into one finishing department under Professor Alfred Arndt. This reinforces the primacy of architecture: Bauhaus designs buildings which are then equipped by its workshops. Towards the end of the year the bauhaus opens a photography department.

Meyer's political activities eventually prove too much. He is fired by Gropius and is succeeded by the renowned exponent ("less is more") of Minimalism - the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969).

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.

Despite Mies van der Rohe best efforts to rid the school of its left-wing political image, local Nazis campaign and win election in November 1931 on their promise to close the Bauhaus.

In October, the Dessau town council orders the closure of the Bauhaus.

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 Architecture

It wasn't until 1927 that Bauhaus began to offer classes in architecture so "Bauhaus" style designs produced from 1919 to 1927 - such as, the competition design for the Chicago Tribune Tower, the Sommerfeld house (Berlin), the Otte house (Berlin), the Auerbach house (Jena), and the 1926 Bauhaus school buildings in Dessau - were the exclusive work of Gropius. Bauhaus student output during this period was geared to the finishing and equipping of these buildings' architectural designs, and encompassed interior finishes, and craft work like cabinets, chairs and pottery. Under Meyer, Bauhaus gained two major architectural commissions, and these were also fully equipped by workshop products. Under Mies van der Rohe the school won no further design commissions.

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 design style embodied by Walter Gropius became known as the International Style of modern architecture, and later spread to the United States, where it was developed by Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) and other European emigrants like Richard Neutra (1892-1970).

Bauhaus Painting

While architecture had always been the highest goal of Bauhaus training, to begin with the staff consisted almostentirely of painters: first, Feininger and Itten; then Muche, Schlemmer, Klee, Kandinsky and Moholy-Nagy. These outstanding teachers provided a level of technical and stylistic tuition which has rarely been equalled. Right from the very beginning, most students tried their hand at painting and drawing - in a non-academic way. The main goal was to stimulate and sharpen a student's creativity, rather than learn how Old Masters painted.

Bauhaus Printmaking/Graphic Art

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.

Bauhaus Sculpture

During the Weimar period, two separate sculpture workshops operated at the Bauhaus: one for stone work, one for wood-carving. To begin with, Johannes Itten directed both, and in 1922 was succeeded by Oskar Schlemmer. The supervising master-craftsman (later famous for his Bauhaus-style chess set) was the sculptor Josef Hartwig. At Dessau a single workshop was set up in 1925 by Joost Schmidt.

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.

Bauhaus Applied Arts

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.

Bauhaus Legacy

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.

Important Collections of Bauhaus Art & Design

- Bauhaus-Archiv, Museum fur Gesaltung, Berlin.
- Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University
- Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
- Minneapolis Institute of Arts
- Paul Klee Centre, Bern, Switzerland

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