Bauhaus Movement: History & Timeline

Instructor: Richard Pierre

Richard has a doctorate in Comparative Literature and has taught Comparative Literature, English, and German

The Bauhaus was a German school of design that operated between 1919 and 1933. In this lesson, you will learn about the development of this institution and its lasting impact on modern art and design.

The Founding of the Bauhaus

After World War I ended in 1918, German artists found themselves at a crossroads. Their country was the loser in a long and bloody war, and its infrastructure and economy were in shambles. Many of its artists, however, had not identified with the nationalist spirit fueling the war. They sought a new artistic style that would show they were modern and distinct from pre-war and wartime Germany.

One of those artists was Walter Gropius, an architect who had served during the war. Afterwards, he was appointed director of the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar, Germany. Gropius wasn't satisfied with literally inheriting the old school, however. He had a new vision for instruction that would unite the study of the fine arts (like painting and sculpture) and crafts (functional arts, like architecture, industrial design, and typography).

In 1919, Gropius merged the school and the Weimar Academy of Fine Art, renaming it the Bauhaus, meaning ''Building House'' in German.

Walter Gropius
Walter Gropius

The Weimar Years (1919-1925)

Before the Bauhaus, design schools tended to teach the arts and crafts separately. By uniting them under one roof, Gropius sought connections between them and stressed that ''all'' forms of art should be socially useful. In the 1919 Bauhaus Manifesto and Program, he wrote: ''There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman… Together let us desire, conceive, and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.''

The initial divisions at the Bauhaus in Weimar included departments of fine art, industrial design, graphic design, typography, and interior design. By 1920, additional classes were added in subjects like woodcarving, stone sculpture, cabinet painting, pottery, glass painting, and wall painting. Gropius convinced leading artists to come and teach at the Bauhaus, including Paul Klee (stained-glass and painting), Lyonel Feininger (graphic arts), Marcel Breuer (interior design), Herbert Bayer (typography and advertising), László Moholy-Nagy (foundations), and Wassily Kandinsky (wall painting).

To emphasize the school's practical approach, teachers were called ''Masters,'' while students were called ''apprentices.'' Students could earn the title of ''journeyman'' after a three year course of study.

The Dessau Years (1925-1932)

In 1923, there was a major exhibition from the Bauhaus held at the Zurich Museum for Arts and Crafts, which increased the school's renown. However, in 1924, the budget allotted to the Bauhaus was drastically cut. The newly elected local government in Weimar was more nationalist and conservative, and opposed the forward-thinking Bauhaus.

The decision was made to move the school to a building in Dessau, designed by Gropius himself. The steel and glass structure showcased the Bauhaus' principles of modernist design, despite the government's opposition.

The Bauhaus in Dessau
The Bauhaus in Dessau

In 1927, an architecture program was added with Hannes Meyer as its first professor. The very next year, Gropius finally had enough with the controversy surrounding the Bauhaus. He resigned and named Meyer as the school's second director.

Unlike the relatively apolitical Gropius, Meyer was devoted to Marxism and communism. Under his directorship, the Bauhaus became more politically-oriented. Many opposed Meyer's approach, and in 1930 he was fired. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was appointed as the third director of the Bauhaus. By removing political study from the syllabi and slimming down the curriculum so that courses could be completed in five semesters, he attempted to keep the school focused on the fundamentals of design.

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