László Moholy-Nagy

A Bauhaus artist draws inspiration from the world around him

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Untitled (Shipboard View) (about 1925) by László Moholy-NagyMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston

Comparing compositions

Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy moved in 1920 from Budapest to Berlin. There, he exhibited in avant-garde circles and met the Russian Constructivist painter El Lissitzky. In 1923, Walter Gropius invited him to join the Bauhaus in Weimar, where he would further Gropius’s vision of a new unity between art and industry. He taught a foundation course, headed the metal workshop, and oversaw the production and graphic design of a series of Bauhaus publications. The following comparisons between Moholy's photographs and handmade prints demonstrate how he employed similar compositional strategies across a variety of media. The formal elements he saw through his camera lens—including geometric shapes, slashing diagonal lines, and patterns of light and dark—reappear in his contemporaneous lithographs and woodcuts.

Untitled, from the portfolio Konstruktionen: Kestnermappe 6 (Constructions: Kestner Portfolio 6) Untitled, from the portfolio Konstruktionen: Kestnermappe 6 (comparison view) (1923) by László Moholy-NagyMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston

The criss-crossed diagonal lines and overlapping planes Moholy drew on the stone for this red and black lithograph from 1923 are remarkably similar to those in his photograph of a ship deck from around 1925.

Untitled Untitled (comparison view) (1939) by László Moholy-NagyMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston

This detail of a pulley and cable from the same photograph echoes the shapes in a perforated metal disc that appears in a photogram by Moholy from 1939.

Segments of Circle with Cross Segments of Circle with Cross (comparison view) (about 1923) by László Moholy-NagyMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston

Other details from the ship deck photograph, such as this pair of steel cylinders covering coils of cable, suggest that Moholy was attuned to the abstract patterns all around him. His delight in pure geometric forms is also evident in Segments of Circle with Cross, a woodcut made around the same time.

Composition (Cross and Circle) Composition (Cross and Circle) (comparison view) (about 1923) by László Moholy-NagyMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston

Composition (Cross and Circle) belongs to a series of small relief prints made around 1923, in which the artist carved the white lines away from a block of wood or linoleum. The railing that partly obscures a pulley in his photograph on the left underscores the concerns Moholy addressed in the print, for overlapping forms and varying degrees of opacity and transparency.

Composition Composition (comparison view) (1923) by László Moholy-NagyMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston

Moholy's 1925 photograph of a painter on the façade of a building also has compositional similarities with his contemporaneous prints, such as this color lithograph from 1923. Note the artist's interest in the rectangular shapes of the windows and the stark linearity of the building's roof and left side. In the print, he translates these forms into pure geometric abstraction, again with an eye for transparency and overlapping forms.

Credits: Story

Text by Patrick Murphy, Lia and William Poorvu Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings.

All Photographs © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Object credits in order of appearance:
• László Moholy-Nagy, Untitled (Shipboard View), about 1925 (detail). Photograph, gelatin silver print. Charles Amos Cummings Fund.

• László Moholy-Nagy, Untitled, from the portfolio Constructions: Kestner Portfolio 6, 1923. Color lithograph. Promised gift of Richard E. Caves.

• László Moholy-Nagy, Untitled, 1939. Photogram, gelatin silver print. Museum purchase with funds donated by Virginia Herrick Deknatel.

• László Moholy-Nagy, Segments of Circle with Cross, about 1923. Linocut or wood engraving. Museum purchase with funds donated by Claire W. and Richard P. Morse.

• László Moholy-Nagy, Composition (Cross and Circle), about 1923 (detail). Linocut or wood engraving. Collection Lois B. Torf.

• László Moholy-Nagy, Malarbeiter, Switzerland (Painter at Work), 1925. Photograph, gelatin silver print. Charles Amos Cummings Fund.

• László Moholy-Nagy, Composition, 1923. Color lithograph. Lee M. Friedman Fund.

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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