Bauhaus in Oranje

Did the Dutch avant-garde influence the Bauhaus, or was it the other way around?

Lounge Chair, Model no. B35 and Stool, Model no. B37 Lounge Chair, Model no. B35 and Stool, Model no. B37 (Designed 1928–29, made c. 1930–35) by Marcel BreuerThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

How many relationships end in acrimony, with the parties going to court over the expensive cantilever chair? Well, that’s how it ended up between the Bauhaus and the Dutch avant-garde as well.

Archer (1919) by Theo van DoesburgMuseum of Fine Arts, Budapest

And it all started so well, with such promise. The Bauhaus was still very young when the Dutch took an interest in it, to be precise, the artists of the De Stijl movement. While the school in Weimar was still caught up in its romantic dreaming, these Dutch artists already had a very clear idea about life.

But the Bauhaus was not going to be conquered so easily. When De Stijl founding member Theo von Doesburg wanted to teach Bauhaus students in Weimar in 1921 he wasn’t allowed in, so he took them in at home.

The Sublime Side (Bauhaus postcard no. 4 for the Bauhaus exhibition of 1923) (1923) by Paul KleeBauhaus Dessau Foundation

These after-school rendezvous brought them gradually closer. It was not long before the Bauhaus and De Stijl had the same favourite colours (yellow, blue, red, black and white) ...

... and shared a preference for abstract and geometric forms.

They both dreamed of angular houses in white (pictured here is the 1917 Villa Allegonda in Katwijk aan Zee by De Stijl member J.P.P. Oud) ...

Lattice chair ti 1 a and table Ti 9 (1923) by Marcel BreuerBauhaus Dessau Foundation

... and even agreed on the furniture. Bauhaus student Marcel Breuer, for instance, took inspiration from the 1918 Lattenstuhl armchair by Gerrit Rietveld for his Lattenstuhl armchair Model TI 1a (1923).

Canteen stool (1926) by Marcel BreuerBauhaus Dessau Foundation

After that, as we well know, Breuer invented his tubular steel furniture while riding his bike (though not a Dutch roadster!). All of a sudden everyone was making things out of tubular steel, even the Dutch, the most prominent of them being one Mart Stam.

He was one of the avant-garde architects who built the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart in 1927 under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (and he too was obviously a Holland fan, after all, would he have put that “van” in his name otherwise?). There was plenty of partying as well of course, and it was at one of those parties that this Mart sketched his idea for a new chair model on his invitation ticket – in tubular steel, but without back legs, a so-called “cantilever chair”.

Armchair (Weißenhof-chair) (1927) by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (design) and Berliner Metallgewerbe Josef Müller (made)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Soon not only Mart Stam was working on a cantilever chair, but so were Mies van der Rohe (who wasn’t yet at the Bauhaus) and Marcel Breuer (by now a junior master at the Bauhaus in Dessau). All three presented their chair models that same year.

Sonneveld House, dining room (2019)Original Source: Het Nieuwe Instituut

But soon there were squabbles about who had invented it. That was the question to which there were suddenly a lot of answers. The matter ended up in court, and Walter Gropius himself had to give evidence. In 1932 it was established that Mart Stam was the inventor of the cantilever chair; but it was the Bauhaus and Breuer who first made it properly take off.

Sonneveld House, library (2019)Original Source: Het Nieuwe Instituut

And isn’t that often the way in strong relationships? One has the idea, and together they make something of it.

Credits: Story

Text / Concept / Realisation: Cornelia Jeske

Editing: Astrid Alexander, Cornelia Jeske

Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt

© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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