Marcel Breuer and his 'Harem'

Erich Consemüller, around 1927

Klassik Stiftung Weimar / © Dr. Stephan Consemüller
Marcel Breuer and his 'harem' (from left to right: Marta Erps-Breuer, Katt Both and Ruth Hollos-Consemüller) / Photo: Erich Consemüller, around 1927.

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The photo, taken by Consemüller, a student and photographer at the Bauhaus, captures the junior master Marcel Breuer around 1927. The title of the picture refers to the women standing next to him as Breuer’s ‘harem’. The women appear self-confident, with cool gazes and tousled shocks of short hair, and in modern dress. Marcel Breuer is looking at his companions sceptically, with his arms crossed. These are ‘my’ women?!

The title expresses the precise opposite of what the photo itself shows – the modernity, emancipation, equality, or even superiority, of the women in it. The actual date of the photo is hard to judge from their haircuts and clothing. It could just as well have been made in the 1980s, when women’s emancipation was reaching new heights.

Marcel Breuer is looking at the Bauhaus women disconcertedly, with a distanced gaze and a dismissive posture. From 1925 to 1928, Breuer headed the carpentry workshop at the Bauhaus as a junior master. The women shown include Breuer’s wife Martha Erps (left) and Ruth Hollós, the wife of the photographer. The architect Katt Both is standing in the middle. The viewer is caught by the penetrating gazes of Both and Erp. Ruth Hollós-Consemüller, by contrast, seems to be suppressing laughter as she looks towards the photographer (her husband). The photo’s title may possibly have been given to it when they were examining the final product later and someone jokingly remarked that the women were apparently Breuer’s ‘harem’. But what is the role played by Marcel Breuer in the harem? Is he its sultan/patriarch or eunuch/superintendent? In the role-play, Breuer seems to be looking at the women to check that they are properly spruced up. Erich Consemüller’s photo once again reflects the modern basic feeling and relaxed fun that were characteristic of the Bauhaus.

[AG 2015]

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