The Bauhaus: Over 100 Years of Design Innovation

The Bauhaus is regarded as the most important and iconic art schools of the twentieth century. Despite a relatively short life, lasting only from 1919 to 1933, over a century later the design movement still leaves its indelible mark on art, architecture, and design practices across the globe.

Founded by Walter Gropius in 1919, the school gathered students from diverse backgrounds and sought to unite practical skills and theoretical knowledge, along with new ideas and attitudes. Gropius set out to develop a different approach to teaching, and to the relationship between art, society, and technology. 

Modern Design. Leonard Joel Auctions
Karl Trabert Lamp for Schanzenbach & Co, Frankfurt | Sold for $1,000

Bauhaus, meaning ‘building house’ or ‘school of building’, was originally located in the German city of Weimar, before moving to Dessau in 1925, and finally Berlin in 1932. It was influenced by 19th century and early 20th century artistic movements such as the Arts and Crafts, and Art Nouveau and its many international incarnations, including the Jugendstil and Vienna Secession. 

The Bauhaus abandoned many aspects of traditional and theoretical approaches. Practical crafts such as architecture, interior design, textiles, and woodwork were now placed on a par with sculpture and painting. The basis for lessons was supplied by wood, cardboard, fabrics and finds from everyday life. This hands-on approach sought to reunite creativity and manufacturing. 

Many of the Bauhaus’s most influential and lasting achievements, aside from architecture, were furniture and utensil designs. Hungarian born Marcel Breuer was amongst the youngest members of the original Bauhaus generation. His take on the classic 19th century tub chair, the Model B3, otherwise known as the Wassily chair, came to be his most famous design. Lightweight, easily moved, and easily mass-produced, the chair met all the requirements of the school’s design philosophy. 

Modern Design. Leonard Joel Auctions
German Postcard for the Bauhaus Exhibition in Weimar, 1923 / Alamy

Only about one third of the Bauhaus students were female, so for a woman to excel in a predominantly male school was uncommon. This was not the case of German born painter, sculptor, photographer, and metalsmith Marianne Brandt. Joining the Weimar school in 1923, Brandt became famous for her ceiling and desk lights, and perhaps most notably her teapot which now holds a place in the famous Museum of Modern Art in New York. The piece reduces an everyday object to a combination of elemental shapes, with pure geometric forms inspired by the constructivist aesthetic. In 1927, Brandt went on to become head of the Bauhaus Metall-Werkstatt in Dessaur, a true testament to her exceptional craft. 

It’s hard to overstate the impact of the Bauhaus on the world of design; its legacy is as deep as it is complex. After the closing of the school in 1933 by the Nazis, its students and faculty dispersed around the globe, taking with them the Bauhaus aesthetics, philosophies, and ideas for a brave new world. 

Together, these individuals and the institutions they went on to create changed the face of modern art, fashion, architecture, and industrial design for decades
to come.

ANNA GRASSHAM / Head of Modern Design

Banner Image Detail: Interior decoration in the Bauhaus style, 1926 / Alamy

September 2022