In 1919 the Bauhaus had little concern for what had come before it. A small collection of artists, designers, and craft teachers thrived at the German school, choosing to throw away the familiar in favour of the alien. A geometric style that was devoid of sentiment, emotion, and social hierarchy. They were designing a new world, one familiar to us today but for the Nazis, they could only see a degenerate vision, rooted in communist ideologies. It more represented their Russian adversaries’ vision of the world. Hitler’s Aryan aspirations were nowhere to be seen.
So in September 1933, Hitler’s forces dismantled the then Berlin-based school. Most of the artists fled to America. The school had closed but the Nazis had certainly failed to silence the work itself. From defiance to defining, the Bauhaus legacy, for better or worse, is all around us today.
Let’s take a look at some of the work of five members of the Bauhaus, work that still feels relevant 100 years later.
Number 1: The Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius. Prior to starting the Bauhaus, Gropius rose to prominence collaborating with Hannes Meyer designing the exterior of the Faguswerck building. The shoe factory pioneered the modernist building aesthetic.
His ambition was to design a building with a focus on health. A clean space for the working class.
In 1913, Gropius published an article about "The Development of Industrial Buildings," which included about a dozen photographs of factories and grain elevators in North America. This would become required reading for any architect interested in the modernist movement.
After the 1st World War Gropius took over the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts and transformed it into the Bauhaus.
For Gropius, the Bauhaus represented an opportunity to extend beauty and quality to every home, irrespective of class or position, through well-designed industrially produced objects.
Examples of this were the now familiar and globally produced Bauhaus Chair and the common Gropius door handle.
Modernistic design was but only one influence for Gropius at the time. Expressionism also had a huge impact illustrated by his work “Monument to the March Dead”.
Gropius left the Bauhaus in 1928 and moved to Berlin, at which point Hannes Meyer took over the role of Bauhaus director.
Number 2: Abstract Pioneer, Wassily Kandinsky Kandinsky is generally credited as the pioneer of abstract art. The Russian painter and art theorist taught at the Bauhaus school for 10 years beginning in 1922.
One of the biggest influences on Kandinsky was an exhibition of paintings by Monet. The impressionistic style of Haystacks; showed how an object’s color could have a presence of its own—an experience independent of the object itself. Kandinsky would write…
“That it was a haystack the catalog informed me. I could not recognize it. This non-recognition was painful to me. I considered that the painter had no right to paint indistinctly. I dully felt that the object of the painting was missing. And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineradicably on my memory. Painting took on a fairy-tale power and splendor.” — Wassily Kandinsky
During Kandinsky’s time at the Bauhaus, whilst teaching basic design and advanced color theory, he became extremely important for Abstract Art.
There he wrote his second theoretical book, “Point and Line to Plane” and Created works like “Yellow-Red-Blue”.
He would compare creating his Art to the composition of music. “ Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”
He was fascinated by the relationship of color and simple forms, their absolute and relative positions on the canvas, and their harmony.
Number 3: Abstract Pioneer, Paul Klee Paul Klee, like Kandinsky, was an accomplished color theorist. His lectures, the “Paul Klee Notebooks”, are regarded as important for modern art as Leonardo do Vinci’s “A Treatise on Painting” was for the Renaissance.
Klee, influenced by expressionism, cubism, and surrealism, had a dry humor. But his childlike perspective would not be without controversy in Nazi Germany. During his time at the Bauhaus, he would paint “The Twittering Machine”. The "twittering" in the title refers to the open-beaked birds, while the "machine" is illustrated by the crank.
It blends biology and machinery, and interpretations of the work vary widely. It has been perceived as a nightmarish lure for the viewer or a depiction of the helplessness of the artist. But also as a triumph of nature over mechanical pursuits.
Originally displayed in Germany, the image was declared “degenerate art” by Adolf Hilter in 1933 and sold by the Nazi Party to an art dealer in 1939, it then made its way to New York. It is now among the more famous images of the New York Museum of Modern Art.
Number 4: Artist, Oskar Schlemmer In 1920, Schlemmer was invited to Weimar by Walter Gropius to run the mural painting and sculpture departments at the Bauhaus School. Soon the combination of the Bauhaus’s influence and his preoccupation with the theatre would produce his most important work.
Schlemmer would become known internationally after the première of his “Triadisches Ballett” in Stuttgart in 1922.
Viewers watched in amazement as actors were transformed into geometrical representations of the human body in what he described as a "party of form and color".
He was then hired in 1923 as Master of Form at the Bauhaus theatre workshop, after working at the workshop of sculpture.
Number 5: Architecht, Mies van der Rohe Finally, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe was the last director of the Bauhaus. Mies sought to establish his own particular architectural style that could represent modern times just as the Classical and Gothic styles did for their own eras.
The style he created made a statement with its extreme clarity and simplicity. Mies coined the term “less is more”. His mature buildings made use of modern materials such as industrial steel and plate glass.
He called his buildings "skin and bones" architecture. He sought an objective approach that would guide the creative process of architectural design, but was always concerned with expressing the spirit of the modern era.