Though the Bauhaus lasted only from 1919 to 1933—when it was shut down by the Nazi regime—its influence in modern art, architecture, and design can hardly be overstated. Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the Bauhaus advanced minimalist principles and found beauty in spare, functional objects and buildings, leveraging color and line in groundbreaking and startling ways.
With its centennial, Bauhaus is back in the limelight. Brush up on the basics with our primer below, and read on for a guide of our favorite works from this landmark movement.
German architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus in 1919 in the city of Weimar, Germany. The art school, arguably one of the most influential of the 20th century, aimed to connect the fine and applied arts and to reunite creativity and manufacturing. At its core, the Bauhaus strove to alter the material world to manifest the unity of all the arts.
Gropius developed a craft-based curriculum that emphasized one single artistic expression combining painting, architecture, and sculpture. Building was placed at the center of all activities. The program began with a preliminary course that immersed students in color, shape, and material studies.
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Bauhaus Timeline (1919-1933)
1919: German architect Walter Gropius founds the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, joining the Grand Ducal School of Arts and Crafts and the Weimar Academy of Fine Art
1922: László Moholy-Nagy takes the place of Johannes Itten in teaching the "preliminary course," moving away from German Expressionism and toward New Objectivity, which rejected the romantic ideals of before
1924: The Social Democrats lose control of government in the German state of Thuringia, where Weimar is located, forcing the school to announce a closure after losing its funding
1925: The Bauhaus moves 80 miles north to Dessau, where Gropius designs the iconic school facilities after the International Style
1928: Gropius resigns as the director of the Bauhaus on April 1 and is succeeded by Swiss architect Hannes Meyer, who believed in the power of mass production to create affordable products
1929: In the climate of political turmoil, Meyer is ousted for his Marxist leanings, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe takes his place
1932: The Nazi Party—which has declared the school "un-German" and a collective of communists and social liberals—wins the elections in Dessau, forcing the Bauhaus to move to Berlin
1933: The school survives without public funding for a year, but the Berlin police shut down the school on April 11, 1933, on the orders of the Nazi regime
After their initial introduction to the theory of the Bauhaus, students enrolled in specialized workshops, such as weaving, pottery, typography, and metalworking. Around 1923, the school transitioned its goals to emphasize the industrial nature of art and the importance of designing for mass production. With this shift, Gropius advocated for the union of both technological and industrial elements with design and art.
While the Bauhaus permanently closed in 1933, the school, its curriculum and program, and its artists have had a significant impact on art ever since. The renowned faculty subsequently led the development of modern art throughout the world, and the influence and aesthetic of the school endured and created what is now known as the Bauhaus movement. Additionally, contemporary art education has been largely influenced by the Bauhaus approach to teaching.
The Wassily Chair (1925–1926), Marcel Breuer
Artist Marcel Breuer (1902–1981), celebrated for his achievements in architecture and furniture, designed the Wassily Chair between 1925 and 1926 as a revolutionary version of a classic upholstered ‘club chair’ seen in a 19th century drawing room. Also known as the Model B3 chair, it was one of the first-known chairs to feature a bent-steel frame. Breuer described the chair as his "most extreme work," though it was also his most influential. The chair exemplified the new developments in design being produced by the Bauhaus; its lightweight structure and mass-producibility fulfilled the requirements of the school’s philosophy. Breuer enrolled at the Bauhaus in 1920 as one of its first students. He was later placed in charge of the woodwork shop.
Maibild (1925), Paul Klee
Painter Paul Klee (1879–1940), one of the most well-known artists associated with the Bauhaus, intertwined together creative formal innovation and a childlike innocence in his artwork. In Maibild, a painting from Klee’s Magic Square series, the artist creates a landscape out of colorful squares. This abstract landscape appears to extend outside the edges of the canvas, and within the borders of the canvas the squares assemble as a mosaic. Exemplified in this work is Klee’s emphasis on lines, as well as his use of geometric shapes and primary colors. Always inventing new methods and techniques, Klee often combined multiple media into one work. The artist worked at the Bauhaus for 10 years, beginning in 1921, continuously developing his style. His work is both figurative and imaginative, and had a large impact on later artists such as Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock.
Coffee and Tea Set (1924), Marianne Brandt
In 1924, Marianne Brandt joined the Bauhaus to study metal working under László Moholy-Nagy. Eventually advancing to the position of workshop assistant and later succeeding Moholy-Nagy as workshop director, Brandt spearheaded much of the Bauhaus’ collaborations with industry. As an artist, her designs for household objects were revered as examples of modern industrial design. This coffee and tea set depicts the Bauhaus ideology that seemingly normal, everyday objects could be seen as beautiful solely based on their form and color. The stereotypical elements of a coffee and tea set have been deconstructed and reinvented as abstract geometric forms. An early modernist, Brandt’s designs and ideologies pioneered metal working throughout the 1930s and on. Brandt was considered one of the most influential figures associated with the history and development of the Bauhaus, and was one of very few women to maintain such an impact.
A 18 (1927), László Moholy-Nagy
Hungarian-born artist and photographer László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) reconstructed and taught the school’s preliminary course and metal workshop from 1923 to 1928. Simultaneously, he pursued his own art and pioneered new photographic techniques by exploring the optical properties of light. While best known for his innovative photography work, Moholy-Nagy consistently maintained painting at the heart of his practice. A 18 exemplifies Moholy-Nagy’s emphasis on geometric shapes and bold colors in a constructionist manner; a delicate structure seems to float in an almost three-dimensional space created by the distortion of colorful rectangular shapes.
Wallhanging (1925), Anni Albers
Arguably the most well-known female artist from the Bauhaus, Anni Albers (1899–1994) worked primarily in textiles (and later in print media) after having been deferred to a weaving workshop as a student at the Bauhaus. She experimented with new and different materials, as well as unique patterns and designs, as she morphed into a bold abstract artist. Her wall hangings reflect various color relationships and embrace the industrial aspects of textile production. In 1931, Albers took over as head of the weaving workshop, one of the few women to hold a senior role. Her works are exhibited widely throughout the world and she is known for her unprecedented experimentation as a female artist working in the early 20th century.
Skyscraper on Transparent Yellow (circa 1929), Josef Albers
Best known as an abstract painter and theorist, Josef Albers (1888–1976) worked to understand the relationship between color in a painting and its viewer. Exploring with medium and technique in his paintings, Albers intended that the colors interact with each other and cause optical illusions to the human eye. Skyscrapers on Transparent Yellow mandates that the eye read between the lines of the color and forms. Similarly, in his Homage to the Square series, Albers utilizes chromatic interactions with nested squares that exemplify his disciplined approach to composition. Albers’ paintings were confrontational and impactful as they ignored accepted color theory, and they were extremely influential amongst artists in the later half of the 20th century. Originally enrolled at the Bauhaus as a student, Albers later joined the faculty as a maker of stained glass and preliminary course teacher.
Design for a Cinema (1924–1925), Herbert Bayer
Herbert Bayer (1900–1985) is credited with the development of modern typography, as well as graphic and industrial design, due to his typeface Universal Alphabet. Bayer was an advocate of greater legibility and he sought to reduce letters to the basic essentials, as visible in the letters on the front of his cinema design. He removed the upper and lower cases and serifs, creating a simple and effective design that could simplify typesetting and the typewriter keyboard layout. Design for a Cinema embodies Bayer’s artistic and simplistic approach to designing spaces, highlighting the creation of an exotic experience within a common affair. Originally a student at the Bauhaus, Bayer eventually led their printing and advertising workshop. He created the school’s typographical identity, and the Bauhaus logo used to this day was designed by Bayer in 1925.