Bauhaus: The School of Modernism

Director and CEO of Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau Dr. Claudia Perren on the institution’s influence across the world

By Google Arts & Culture

Words by Dr Claudia Perren

The Bauhaus was an art school that was radical in its uniting of art, craft, and technology in the years following the World War I. Its main goal was to improve people's living conditions through modern design.

Founded in Weimar in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925. Between 1925 and 1926, Walter Gropius, along with students and teachers, created the Dessau University building, an icon of modern architecture and one of the most influential buildings of the 20th century.

The Bauhaus Dessau (1919/1933) by Walter GropiusOriginal Source: Vidal Sassoon

In 1932, the Bauhaus was forced to move once again as a result of political pressure, as had also been the case in Weimar in 1925. The third and last director after Hannes Meyer – architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – kept the Bauhaus running as a private institution until 1933 in a former telephone factory in Berlin's Steglitz district.

The Bauhaus was closely associated with the heated political situation and turbulent history of the Weimar Republic. The end of this Republic and the start of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany in many ways marked the end of the Bauhaus.

On July 20, 1933, the Bauhaus was forced to close in the face of Nazi reprisals. Following this, most of the students and teachers who had been involved with possibly the most famous and influential school of modernism had to assimilate, go into hiding, or emigrate. Many former members of the Bauhaus took the ideas of the institution with them to almost every corner of the globe.

However, the Bauhaus had international links right from the start and was already world-famous early on. The emigration of its members greatly increased the school's international status and its global influence.

Walter Gropius and Harry Seidler (1954) by Max DupainNational Portrait Gallery

Influences from all over the world

The Bauhaus incorporated significant influences from international scenes, both in terms of the teaching program and the buildings, as well as in the lives of teachers and students. The founder Walter Gropius, for instance, aligned the school with certain traditions, and incorporated suggestions from English artists John Ruskin and William Morris when developing the teaching program. The combination of arts and crafts in the movement founded by Morris played an important role in the first years of the Bauhaus in particular.

Nearly 1,300 students attended the Bauhaus even though it only existed for 14 years. These included many international students, as noted in the Bauhaus journal when it published an insight into the backgrounds of its students in 1929: "140 are of German origin and 30 are from abroad, including eight Swiss, four Polish, three Czechs, three Russians, two Americans, two Latvians, two Hungarians, one German-Austrian, one Dutch, one Turkish, one Persian, one Palestinian, one stateless, with 119 male, and 51 female students."

Yet the teachers also came from a wide range of different countries and provided their own influences to enhance life at the Bauhaus. They included the painters Lyonel Feininger from New York and Wassily Kandinsky from Russia, the second Bauhaus director and architect Hannes Meyer from Switzerland, the visual artist László Moholy-Nagy from Hungary, and his wife, photographer Lucia Moholy from Prague, and the architect Mart Stam from the Netherlands.

By Frank ScherschelLIFE Photo Collection

Today, the Bauhaus building in Dessau is a World Heritage site and is a place where a wide range of different people, interests, and influences from all over the world are brought together, just as they were between 1926 and 1932. Together with the master houses nearby on the campus, the school building was where Bauhaus members revolutionized life, learning, and working together. The building is an expression of the teaching program and a modern way of life.

It provides an indication of what the Bauhaus was as a school, i.e. an important hub in the international network of modern art. In addition to students and teachers, the Bauhaus played host to many visitors from all over the world. They include composer Béla Bartók, French artist Marcel Duchamp, American collector Samuel R. Guggenheim, and Indian musician Murshid Inayat Kahn. The list might not be endless, but it would be a very long one!

The Bauhaus was also visible on the world stage in its early years. Even before the school's first major exhibition in Weimar in 1923, the Bauhaus sent 250 works by teachers and students to an exhibition in Kolkata in 1922.

The Bauhaus buildings in Dessau also illustrate the institution's international connection. The glass surfaces of the famous workshop wing in the Bauhaus building were not installed floor by floor, but using a grid system that "hung" as a whole on the roof of the building like a curtain – hence the established international term "curtain wall." Just like the design for the entrances to the building, the boundary-expanding effect and the framework structure also makes reference to Gropius' preoccupation with Japanese interior design, in this case with its transparent sliding walls (called shoji).

Composition (1922/1922) by Wassily KandinskyVirginia Museum of Fine Arts

Reconstruction of the "director's room", designed by Walter Gropius.

Direktorenzimmer im Bauhausgebäude Dessau - Rekonstruktion des Zustands um 1926 (um 1926) by Walter Gropius (Architektur, Möbeldesign) / Hinnerk Scheper (Farbgestaltung) / Diverse Gestalter aus dem Bauhaus (Objekte im Regal)Conference of National Cultural Institutions

Emigration and new contexts

Following the emigration of the Bauhaus members after 1933, the ideas of the school were carried to many parts of the world where they came into contact with other contexts and concepts of architecture, art, and design. Many of the most famous Bauhaus teachers today ultimately settled in the United States.

Professor Moholy-Nagy And Friend Sweeney (1937-09)LIFE Photo Collection

László Moholy-Nagy traveled to the Netherlands and the UK and then, in 1937, emigrated to the United States. Here he founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago, which continues to exist today as the IIT Institute of Design. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe also taught in Chicago from 1937, as did Ludwig Hilberseimer and Walter Peterhans from 1938, initially at the Armour Institute of Technology, which became the IIT in 1940. Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer became professors at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Anni and Josef Albers taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina from 1933. They all had a significant influence on a young generation of architects, designers, and artists through their teaching and their works created in the United States.

Marcel Breuer (1950-08-08) by Walter SandersLIFE Photo Collection

Although the USA was the best-known refuge for the Bauhaus members, it was by no means the only one. Architect Lotte Beese, for instance, moved to Amsterdam with her husband Mart Stam in 1935, and was highly instrumental in rebuilding Rotterdam after the Second World War. Architect Richard Paulick lived and worked in Shanghai for 16 years. Arieh Sharon became one of the most important architects of the new state of Israel. Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack initially emigrated to England before being sent to Australia in 1940 as an "enemy alien." In Australia today, he is considered to be one of the reformers of Australian art.

Untitled (1969) by Anni AlbersNational Museum of Women in the Arts

The influence of the Bauhaus can therefore be found in many countries around the world in a variety of forms today, which is a testament to the principles and ideas established 100 years ago.

Richard Paulick, 1953Staatsoper Unter den Linden

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