The origins

up to 1919

Klassik Stiftung Weimar / © Klassik Stiftung Weimar / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017
Building of the School of Art in Weimar, architect: Henry van de Velde / photo: Louis Held, c. 1911

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From foundation, the Bauhaus saw itself as a part of the modern movement and as its mediator. Created from the migration of artists and ideas, it developed in constant interaction with various groups of architects, urban planners, artists, scientists and designers. The constitutive ideas of the Bauhaus come from the Arts and Crafts Movement of the prewar period, especially the progressive education movement and the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) that unites all of the arts as well as aesthetic education in all areas of life as represented by the Deutscher Werkbund (German Work Federation) and Art Nouveau.

Henry van de Velde, who in Weimar in 1902 founded the Kunstgewerbliches Seminar (arts and crafts seminar), an advisory body for crafts and trade in the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and was the director of the Kunstgewerbeschule (school of applied arts) from 1907 to 1915, played a significant role in the early history of the Bauhaus. Gropius, whom van der Velde had already proposed as his successor in 1915, not only took over the art school building built by van de Velde from 1904 to 1911, but also what was left of the training workshops, machines, tools and materials. He also hired some of its teachers. Under Henry van de Velde, the school workshops had already taken the transitional step from craftsmanship techniques to industrial technology in 1910. Just ten years later, Gropius wrote that the Bauhaus workshops were intended as ‘laboratories’ for industry.

The discussions at the works council for art, where German intellectuals, architects and artists came together in the autumn of 1918, had another decisive influence on the pioneering programme of the Bauhaus Weimar. Under the leadership of Otto Bartning, one work group including Walter Gropius discussed the far-reaching reform of the educational system. In the spring of 1919, it developed a mutual concept paper that served as a basis for Gropius’s concept.

The return to craftsmanship was not connected with the intention of creating industrialised reproductions of past styles that evolved from craftsmanship but with the development of a new formal vocabulary based on experimentation and craftsmanship that would do justice to the industrial manufacturing process.

From Morris to the Bauhaus is a book title that has long become a byword including the Bauhaus in a line of development that reaches back to mid-19th century England. The artist William Morris (1834–1896) was the founder and leader of a reform movement that aspired to counter the cultural damage caused by industrialisation. Starting in 1861, he revived historic handicraft techniques in his workshops and used them to produce high quality goods such as fabrics, carpets, glass paintings, furniture and everyday objects. In his own publishing company, Kelmscott Press, he produced books that paved the way for Art Nouveau.

Morris triggered a wave of reform that was to reach Germany later, where industrialisation had achieved a new quality after the foundation of the German Reich in 1871. Germany also recognised that well-designed industrial products represented a significant economic factor. The British educational system was analysed in order to reform the German schools of arts and crafts. An entire generation of painters now understood that the applied arts were their most important task. The Dresden Workshops (1898), whose ‘machine furniture’ was designed by Richard Riemerschmid, are the best-known example of the many workshops established on German soil. In 1903, the Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Workshop) was established in Austria with Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser as its most important representatives.

The Weimar State Bauhaus was founded by Walter Gropius with the goal of overcoming the division between the artisan and the artist. The employees of the Bauhaus wanted to eliminate social differences through their creative work. This intention and its results exhibited a variety of similarities and connections with reform movements such as the Deutscher Werkbund (German Work Federation), which was established in 1907 and of which Walter Gropius was a member until 1933.

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