Emerging in the first part of the XXe century and aiming to reject the traditional way of thinking in art, architecture, society and education, the Bauhaus, is both an academy school and one of the most iconic sub-movements of Modernism in art.
One century after its creation in 1919 by Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus’ vision is still transcending artists and designers’ creations. Aiming to bring its aesthetic and functional principles within all spheres of the arts, we retrieve Bauhaus’ positions in the work of the most acclaimed painters, sculptors, architects, graphists and designers from the WWI until nowadays.
To celebrate the Bauhaus’s anniversary, we will go through the school’s major phases, meet its most iconic members and understand how its different localisations had been impacting the movement.
The origins (up to 1919)
The Bauhaus roots itself in the thought of William Morris (1834–1896), a British designer who argued that art should meet society’s needs and that form should not be distinguished from the function. Since the late XIXe century, the migration of ideas and artists influenced the pre-war “Art & Craft movement” in Germany which encouraged multidisciplinary practices within art (total work of art) and initiated progressive education concepts in aesthetics. Henry Van de Welde, artist and architect who played an important role in the emergence of Art nouveau in Belgium founded and directed the Weimar Saxon Grand Ducal Art School from 1901 to 1915. Carrying progressive ideas, Van de Welde initiated the transitional step from craftsmanship techniques to industrial technology since 1910. In 1915 he must cede the school direction and recommended Walter Gropius to take it back.
Also architect, urbanist and designer, Walter Gropius inherited from the school’s direction plus its training workshops, machines, and materials. Greatly influenced by the modernist ideas celebrating mankind’s intelligence, creativity, and capability for experimentation and radical thinking, Walter Gropius wanted to bring all the art practices under the same roof. He also drew in the guidelines of the German national designers' organization, which harnessed, since its creation in 1907, the rationality and functionality associated with mass production processes in design furniture. In 1919 he managed to merge the Grand Ducal Art school with the Academy of Fine Art under the Bauhaus (literally house of construction) and proclaimed his goal to ”create a new guild of craftsmen, without class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist."
Bauhaus Weimar (1919–1925)
Aiming to intertwine art, crafts and architecture while including all the arts in the curriculum, Walter Gropius invited from 1919, visual artists, sculptors, dramaturgist, designers, architects and craftsmen to teach at the Bauhaus. The painters Johannes Itten and Lyonel Feininger, and the sculptor Gerhard Marcks present since day 1 were joined the following years by the artist Oskar Schlemmer and the famous painters Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky. Starting to become quite important on the international, Theo van Doesburg came to Weimar in 1922 to promote his movement De Stijl ("The Style"), followed by the visit of El Lissitzky, a Russian Constructivist artist and architect. From 1919 to 1922 the school was shaped by the pedagogical and aesthetic ideas of Johannes Itten, an expressionist painter who favoured a more theoretical fine art practice and redounded the influence of expressionism, especially at the arrival of Kandinsky in the faculty. This started to change in 1922 when the hungarian architect László Moholy-Nagy replaced Itten and rewrote the mandatory introduction course.
Joining Gropius’s leaning for the early German modernist style in design and architecture (“New Objectivity” or “New Sobriety”) Moholo Nagy emphasized the practical side of the teaching, the use of industrial material and the further rapprochement between art and crafts. This shift reflects the importance for Germany to compensate its lack of raw material - mainly available to the USA and UK - with skilled labor force capable to conceive innovative and high quality goods. It placed designers and artists as key actors in the international radiation of Germany. From this moment, the school's philosophy stated that the artist should be trained to work with the industry. Showing capacity to innovate within economic constraints, the Bauhaus’s designers dealt with the 20’s great depression by recycling cheap materials such as vinyl, chrome or plywood in design furniture.
Feeling the rise of political tension and already impacted by the radical thought of certain members of the school, Gropius prepared a relocation even before 1925, date the Weimar school had to close due to insufficient funds. Already pretty acclaimed by his fellows architects for his work in Alfeld- i.e the Fagus-Werk shoe last factory - Gropius easily got commissioned by the city of Dessau to build a futuristic glass building which will welcome from 1926 the school and its faculty.
Bauhaus Dessau (1925–1931)
The Bauhaus and Gropius had long been struggling with the divide between individual artistic expression and industrial mass production. If the school had an expressionist legacy epitomised by Klee and Kandinsky, Gropius has been continuously encouraging the creation of a new creative professional kind, driven to shape new solutions for living. The Bauhaus relocalisation fostered its consolidation on the path to the design of new industrial products for the masses. The majority of the products and buildings that still define the image of the Bauhaus today were created in Dessau. In 1928, on Gropius’s recommendation, the director’s post was handed over to the Swiss architect and urbanist Hannes Meyer, previously the head of the architectural department established in 1927.
Meyer’s clear calculations and cost-efficient proposals came to be attractive to potential clients. As a director, Meyer brought to the Bauhaus two of its most important building commissions: a five apartments building in Dessau and the ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau ; in 1929 the Bauhaus turned a profit for the first time.
However, his strict functionalist vision banishing any aesthetic endeavour added to his radical communist thought compounded the internal tensions and in 1930, he was dismissed by the city council for supposed ‘communist practices’. Pursuing the school’s architectural momentum, Mies Van der Rohe, the new Bauhaus director’s was also its last and least politically minded. Just one year after Mies van der Rohe took office, the city council of Dessau was already dominated by the NSDAP. Trying to save the school and the material, Mies Van der Rohe organized the relocation of the Bauhaus in an old telephone factory in Berlin in 1932.
Bauhaus Berlin (1932–1933)
If the students were already suffering from the lack of socio-political reference and cuts in product lines under Mies Van Der Rohe’s direction, the creative production became almost impossible after the relocalisation in Berlin. Due to the repressive political situation and the drastic cutbacks in funding, many professors and students left Germany. Forced to let the regime control the school production, Mies Van der Rohe preferred to dissolve the school in July 1933.
The aftermath (from 1933)
Ironically, the break of the institution led to the continuity of the idea: with the emigration of faculty the Bauhaus agenda spread worldwide, especially in the USA. If the institution became history, its ideas remained highly active and transformed the American pedagogy, and the practice of art, design, and architecture.
Moreover, the American’s ambition for artistic dominancy, technological evolution and architectural productions constituted a fertile ground for the Bauhaus’s style development in American institutions and constructions. From the first Bauhaus’s exhibition in 1930 in Harvard, to the second one in 1932 at the MoMa, the Bauhaus became quickly types and models for the New World. In 1937, Walter Gropius joined the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s faculty and brought modern designers, including Marcel Breuer to help revamp the curriculum. The same year, it came to Chicago where the “IIT Institute of Design (ID)” was founded as “The New Bauhaus” and established a program in art led by László Moholy-Nagy. In 1938, Mies van der Rohe was called to join Moholy Nagy and head the architecture school at the Armour Institute in Chicago. The New Bauhaus still has massive influence in design and technology today, for instance, the globally adopted design thinking movement emerged there in the 2000’s.
Also called the “international style”, the Bauhaus style marked a paradigm change. In a context of Industrial Revolution, when the machine replaced the craftsman and mass-produced goods replaced individually made artefacts, the Bauhaus had a avant-garde agenda striving for the closest connection between art, people, and technology.” Halfway between the western modernism, rethinking perspectives and color theories, and the eastern’s constructivism rejecting autonomous art, the Bauhaus was a hub for artistic reinventions, and a bridge between the eastern socialism and the western liberalism. At Convelio we can confirm that the Bauhaus’ style has never been so popular,. Indeed, we used to ship reproductions of Bauhaus’ products everyday. For instance, the Josef Albers' fruit bowl, the Jucker-Wagenfeld table lamp, Marcel Breuer's and Mies van der Rohe's chairs and tables, Marianne Brandt's tea kettle and ash tray stand side-by-side…