Articles & Features

Art Movement: Bauhaus.
Towards the Unity of All the Arts

Bauhaus
The Walter Gropius designed Bauhaus building in Dessau

“Architects, sculptors, painters—we all must return to craftsmanship! For there is no such thing as ‘art by profession.’ There is no essential difference between the artist and the artisan. The artist is an exalted artisan.”

Walter Gropius

By Tori Campbell

The Origins & Key Ideas of the Bauhaus

Founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius in Weimar, the Staatliches Bauhaus, more commonly known as the Bauhaus, was a German art school that helped birth an art movement and the careers of innumerable artists and architects. Focused on the concept of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, meaning literally ‘total work of art’, the Bauhaus aimed to combine all arts in one place and under a united ideology. Aiming to use many art forms for a single work, to create a piece that is a synthesis of art, the Bauhaus’ ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ meant that all pupils were working in tandem with their peers: fabric artists, painters, sculptors, furniture designers, architects, and many more. 

Key dates: 1919-1933
Key regions: Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin, Germany
Key artists: Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and László Moholy-Nagy

bauhaus masters
Group portrait of Bauhaus masters, from left: Josef Albers, Hinnerk Scheper, Georg Muche, László Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Joost Schmidt, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Vassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Gunta Stölzl, Oskar Schlemmer.
1926. Newsprint. From Das Illustrierte Blatt, Jan and Edith Tschichold Papers, 1899–1979. The Getty Research Institute, 930030

In addition to a constant goal of creating a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, the Bauhaus teachers and students were united in a design approach of marrying mass production with individual vision. This meant that the design pieces crafted at the Bauhaus always sought to combine aesthetics and beauty with function and utility. The result of such an ideology was numerous buildings, paintings, drawings, textiles, and designs that helped to define our cultural lexicon and spread modern design around the world. 

bauhaus
Josef Albers’s Preliminary Course at the Bauhaus, 1928–9
Photographer unknown

In 1933, with the rise of Nazism, the Bauhaus was forced to close first its Dessau location, and after a ten-month stint in a former factory in Berlin the Gestapo halted all Bauhaus activities. Upon closure, many of the Bauhaus’ disciples had to seek protection from the Nazi threat in other countries and fled persecution to Britain and the United States. Several artists, such as Anni and Josef Albers, ended up joining the faculty of Black Mountain College, an experimental arts-based school in North Carolina. The dissipation of students and faculty spread the Bauhaus influence and ideology around the world.


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“God is in the details.”

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Famous Bauhaus Artists

Though countless volumes could be written about the famous artists that came out of, or contributed to the Bauhaus movement, here is just a small sampling of the talent nurtured at the unique institution.

Walter Gropius

walter gropius
Walter Gropius, left
New York’s Pan Am Building (now the MetLife Building), right

Founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius was a German architect and a master of modernist architecture. Devoting his energy to finding and nurturing an exceptional staff, he brought the artistic minds of Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, Anni and Josef Albers, Herbert Bayer, László Moholy-Nagy, Otto Bartning and Wassily Kandinsky together as faculty of the Bauhaus. Additionally, he oversaw the school’s shift from Weimar to Dessau and designed the infamous Dessau building himself, which would be the home of the school and the site of designer and architect pilgrimages to this day. Gropius left the Bauhaus in 1928 and went on to become the leading architect of the International Style, crafting iconic buildings such as the Harvard Graduate Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the John F. Kennedy Federal Office Building in Boston, Massachusetts and the Pan Am Building (now the Metlife Building) in New York City, among countless others.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

ludwig mies van der rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, left
The Barcelona Pavilion, right

The last director of the Bauhaus, Mies van der Rohe emigrated to the United States after the school’s dissolvement and became the head of the architecture school at Armour Institute of Technology (later the Illinois Institute of Technology) in Chicago. Mies created a new modernist style, in which plate glass and industrial steel (new materials at the time) defined a minimal sensibility that expressed the spirit of the modern era. He is the architect behind the Barcelona Pavilion, Chicago Federal Complex, Farnsworth House, Seagram Building, and numerous others.

Wassily Kandinsky

wassily kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky, left
Yellow-Red-Blue, 1925, right

Wassily Kandinsky taught at the Bauhaus in the later years of his life and career, after already establishing himself as a foremost abstract painter and art theorist. At the Bauhaus Kandinsky taught the basic design class for beginners, and a course on advanced theory, where he developed a new colour theory based on elements of form psychology. Kandinsky is known today as the pioneer of abstract art, and his work can be found in museums and galleries the world over.

Anni Albers

anni albers
Anni Albers weaving, left
Wall Hanging, 1926, right

Anni Albers, German-born textile artist and printmaker, began as a student at the Bauhaus when her husband, Josef Albers took on a ‘Junior Master’ role at the school. She experimented widely with form, material, colour, and texture and developed numerous functional and unique textiles that served as stunning aesthetic pieces as well as absorbing sound and light. She later went on to become the head of the weaving workshop at the Bauhaus, becoming one of the only women in a senior role at the school. After the end of the Bauhaus, the Albers’ moved to the USA and took on teaching positions at the Black Mountain College. Anni Albers has published several books, and her work lives on in museums, galleries, and personal collections around the world. 

Legacy

The Bauhaus’ talent, tradition, aesthetics, and ideology birthed an artistic and design movement that led the school to become nearly synonymous with German modernism. In addition to the artists above, the school nurtured the careers of Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Franz Ehrlich, Lilly Reich, Marcel Breuer, Adolf Meyer, and countless others. The school had a profound impact on the future of modern design, architecture, art, and education, providing inspiration for over a decade of aspiring designers.

Bauhaus
Untitled (Bauhauslers on the shore of the Elbe)
Irene Angela Bayer (née Hecht) 1925-05-21
From the collection of Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

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