Bauhaus was such a fertile ground shared by a great number of ingenious people, that it seems really hard to make a list of the 10 most significant ones. Some of these artists have left the most iconic pieces and designs behind, some were great educators, lecturers, theorists – either way, all of them have inspired future generations of creatives and thinkers, informing their sensibility and giving them guidelines to follow. It is no wonder that the movement is referred to as a school of thought, rather than a school of art, although it is precisely the synergy of these two that the Bauhaus was aiming to encompass. The legacy of Bauhaus goes far beyond individual intention, but each of the artists has, individually, made it possible for the movement to have such strong impact later on.
Editors’ Tip: The Bauhaus Group: Six Masters of Modernism
The author of this book is Nicholas Fox Weber, for thirty-four years head of the Albers Foundation. Weber spent many years with Anni and Josef Albers, the only husband-and-wife artistic pair at the Bauhaus (she was a textile artist; he was a professor and an artist, in glass, metal, wood, and photography – and he will be mentioned in our top list as well). The couple told him their stories and described life at the Bauhaus with their fellow artists and teachers, Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who were all immensely important artists and thought-provoking creators, equally devoted to theory and practice.
Walter Gropius - The Founder
The German architect Walter Gropius was blessed with a progressive mindset, but he had also found himself in a set of circumstances, combined with a bit of luck, which helped him conduct the innovative program for the Bauhaus school. To Walter Gropius, the sworn Modernist, ornamentation was a form of untruthfulness: “We want to create the purely organic building, boldly emanating its inner laws, free of untruths or ornamentation“. This principle has brought Bauhaus significant attention and unique identity, and so did its pro-industrial attitude (advocated by Gropius himself), clearly supportive of mass-production, for the sake of better realization, financial advancement and the unification of all arts. From the beginning to its end, Gropius was an eminent figure in the Bauhaus story – the founder, creator of the ideology, the first director, and finally, the architect of its iconic building in Dessau.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - The Renowned Architect
The name of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (or simply Mies) is familiar to anyone related to architecture, from first-year students to the acclaimed masters. Others probably know him because of his famous furniture design (especially chairs). While Gropius is immediately associated with the Bauhaus, and the Bauhaus only, Mies, who was his prolific successor, has made many significant projects afterward – which is not to say that his effort and enthusiasm related to the school was not worthy of admiration. Mies was the last Bauhaus director, who had tried to run the school in Berlin, while investing his own money in it – but the fight against Nazis was a futile one. However, he remained a part of the German avant-garde, mingling with almost every movement there was, later on, all of them related to Modernism. Eventually, he was one of the people who helped translate the Bauhaus principles and concepts onto other continents, since he was an educator in the USA as well, and it is one of the biggest things done for the Bauhaus.
Oskar Schlemmer - Revisiting Ballet
Oskar Schlemmer had a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to art, being a sculptor, a painter and a designer as well. However, the genres that he is most remembered for are theater and ballet, which were brought to greater heights during his engagement at the school. He was both a choreographer and a costume designer, which helped both of these areas advance and expand their fields of research, loosen their boundaries and erase edges between arts as independent disciplines. Schlemmer’s most famous work is Triadisches Ballett, in which costumes gradually transform actors into geometrical shapes on stage. This work had announced a change in performing arts, which we were able to witness later on, and we see it today as well.
Wassily Kandinsky - From Expressionism to Abstraction
Along with three of his fellow artists (two of which are to be mentioned here), Kandinsky was a member of the art group Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four). Somewhere around 1921, the famous Russian painter joined the Bauhaus community as well. It was a period in which he was preoccupied with a specific subject, which helped his art move even further away from expressionism, reflecting on psychology of form, shape and color, and how these features affect our perception. Incidentally, it was the same period in which the Gestalt psychology was established, which was devoted to similar types of research and observation, and it was also discussed and examined at the Bauhaus school. Kandinsky had surveyed this matter through the genre of painting, which was what he was practicing and teaching at the same time.
Marcel Breuer- The Designer
Marcel Breuer was certainly one of the most important names in the 20th century design history, and it is no coincidence that we are mentioning him right after Kandinsky, since Breuer’s breakthrough was made when his first all-tubular steel chair got out in 1925, and it was named after the Russian painter (the Wassily chair). Since Breuer was an architect by profession, he was also the one to design the interiors of the famous masters’ houses (designed by Gropius), which belonged to Gropius himself, Moholy-Nagy, Kandinsky, and Muche. These houses have remained preserved, and they can still be seen in Dessau, really close to them main Bauhaus building. A number of Wassily-chair copies and editions exist today – the first place to see them and sit on one is the Bauhaus building in Dessau (operating as a school of architecture today). A number of his other designs can be seen in world’s museums, such as the Brooklyn museum.
Paul Klee - Master of Watercolor
Just like his fellow artist Wassily Kandinsky, who was also his friend from the Blue Four and the Bauhaus, Paul Klee was heavily influenced by expressionism, but also drawn to abstraction. Klee was apparently inspired by cubism and futurism as well, but his style was, nonetheless, like no other. Although he was inclined to use different techniques and to combine them, it could be said that his watercolors have remained the greatest inspiration for today’s artists, being stylistically specific and highly demonstrative of Klee’s refined sensibility for color. Klee died relatively young – younger than most of his contemporaries (at the age of 60), and he did not have a chance to make his brilliant creative output even more versatile. If it were otherwise, who knows in which way would have his art progressed.
László Moholy-Nagy - A Little Bit of Everything
László Moholy-Nagy was one of the most famous Bauhaus professors, whose contribution to the school’s learnings had redirected the curriculum moving it closer to the idea of industrialization and the unity of art and technology. Moholy-Nagy’s position at the school was very important, as he was the instructor of the foundation course. In addition and prior to his work as an educator, he was also an innovative man of many talents and interests, associated with the fields of photography, typography, sculpture, painting and industrial design. Still, most of his research was based on photography and the advancements it brings, which is how he got to coin the term “new vision”, that referred to the capacity of photography to convey reality in a way different from the one we know.
Josef Albers - Perpetual Homage to the Square
Josef Albers is another hot name on the list, and this is partially because of his immigration to the United States after the Bauhaus had closed. While he was working at the Bauhaus, he spent several years collaborating with Paul Klee. The two had held one of the most interesting workshops, dedicated to glass and furniture design. The collaborative research had brought greater knowledge and experience to both of them, as well as their students, which was exactly the essential significance of the Bauhaus. In his mature years, Albers had a chance to work with some of the most prominent post-war artists, becoming the head of a new art school called the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Albers became the master of many genres, but he is best known for his abstract Homage to the Square series. It is reasonable to presume that this series, inaugurated in 1949, was rooted in his former Bauhaus experience.
Lyonel Feininger - The Amazing Caricaturist
Although Feininger became a devoted painter and a lecturer over time, his career was based on cartoon drawing and caricaturing. This was very important for his future artistic expression, since caricaturists are usually the ones who are able to single out the most important parts out of a bunch of details. This ability is crucial for abstraction, which was the way in which Modern art was growing. Feininger was the one to design the cover of the Bauhaus Manifesto, depicting a cathedral in his recognizable manner. The drawing was symbolic on many levels, first of which being the idea of a cathedral as an emblem of the medieval times, in which crafts were equalized with arts. Still, the way in which the cathedral is represented is not classical in that sense. This drawing has made Feininger prominent in the circles of Bauhaus admirers, but it has also made his art become classified as “degenerate” by the Nazi party.
Johannes Itten - The Mystic
The last artist on the list was kind of an outsider among the Bauhaus circles, which is why he resigned and was replaced by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in 1923. Itten’s participation in the genesis of Bauhaus lasted for a couple of years, but it was significant and long-lasting afterwards. The reason Itten didn’t really “fit in” was because his art became interrelated with spirituality at some point, which simply did not suit the age of industrialization that the Bauhaus supported, and it made Gropius and Itten go separate ways. Johannes Itten was the pioneering Bauhaus artist to deal with color in a thorough way, his book The Art of Color (1961) still being a relevant teaching book. His life-long research on color gave meaningful results, most of which are the basis of today’s learnings related to the connection between color and types of personality. Because of his fondness of the philosophy of the Far East and Oriental culture, Itten was not a very typical Bauhaus teacher. This could even make him the most interesting one, from today’s perspective.