Walter Gropius becomes Director of the former Grand-Ducal Saxon College of Fine Arts [Grossherzoglich Sächsische Hochschule für bildende Kunst] in Weimar. He unites it formally with the College of Applied Art [Kunstgewerbeschule], which had already been dissolved in 1915, and gives the institution the new name ‘State Bauhaus in Weimar’ [Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar]. The official date of its foundation is 1 April 1919. The Manifesto – in which Gropius announces his programme with all the emotionalism accompanying the sense of fresh departures after the end of the First World War – is published the same month.
In the text of the Manifesto, Gropius does not demand a new style or a new form of art, but much more fundamentally a reform of artistic work. Artistic work is to return to its foundations and first premises, which he sees as lying in craft work – regarded as the treatment of the material – as the foundation of all the arts. The relevance of the social purpose of craft work for art is also noted; it is now given a role in the social context of labour. Since only craft work, rather than art, is capable of being taught, the Bauhaus theory is to be based on craft training in workshops. The ideal of a working community of all the arts corresponds to the idea of the unified art work, the reuniting of all the arts and crafts disciplines – sculpture, painting, applied arts and crafts – to establish a new art of architecture.
Although the goals are utopian, Gropius’s programme involves a return to aspects of general validity, general appeal and the requirements of practical life. Overall, he is setting out a claim to be carrying out cultural reform. In the same year, Gropius appoints three artists as Bauhaus teachers: painter Lyonel Feininger, sculptor Gerhard Marcks and painter and art teacher Johannes Itten. The faculty also continues to include four professors from the former art college. Art teaching is initially carried out in the individual teachers’ classes, with craft training taking place in the workshops – in the first semester only consisting of the gold-silver-copper works, the bookbinding workshop, the weaving workshop and the graphic printing workshop. In addition, individual architectural courses are held; an architecture department is first established in 1927.
George Muche is appointed as a master in October. Additional workshops open during the year: the workshop for woodcarving and stone sculpture and the workshop for decorative painting (later mural painting), and the carpentry workshop; the pottery workshop is set up in Dornburg/Saale. At this period, training at the Bauhaus is equivalent to a craft apprenticeship, concluding with an examination by the chamber of trades.
To create a closer connection between the arts and crafts, each workshop has been headed since the winter semester by a craftsman as ‘work master’ and an artist as ‘form master’. Lyonel Feininger is responsible for the printing workshop and Gerhard Marcks for the pottery; all of the other workshops are initially headed by Johannes Itten and George Muche.
An obligatory probationary semester under Johannes Itten becomes what is known as the ‘preliminary course’ [Vorkurs]. The subject of this art-based preliminary apprenticeship is the elementary conditions for any design: the material, ways of shaping and presenting it, and construction. The preliminary course is used to explore the personality and creativity of each student and to establish equivalent prerequisites for their further training. Exercises with Itten in particular – such as studies of rhythm, formal contrasts and light contrasts – determine the formal language used in Bauhaus products up to 1922. Itten teaches the preliminary course, which is to become a defining element in the Bauhaus’s teaching work, up to the spring of 1923, with Muche taking his place during the summer.
In Weimar, the Bauhaus encounters initial public hostility. The attacks are ideologically motivated, but are also triggered by artistic issues. The conflicts are conducted in political meetings, in the press and pamphlets, and finally in Thuringia’s state parliament. As the Bauhaus is a state-owned college dependent on parliamentary approval of grants, its existence is constantly threatened by these quarrels and by changes in the political majority in the state parliament.
Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer are appointed at the start of the year, followed in the autumn by Lothar Schreyer, who heads the new theatre department. In March, the directorships of the various workshops are reassigned: Walter Gropius takes over carpentry, Schlemmer sculpture, Georg Muche weaving, and Klee bookbinding.
Gropius and Adolf Meyer build the Expressionist Sommerfeld House in Berlin. An attempt is made here for the first time to implement the unification of the arts in architecture. The workshops for woodcarving, mural painting, glass painting, carpentry, weaving and metalworking are involved in the finishing and completion work, as well as in the interior decoration of the building.
In the summer, Johannes Itten visits the Mazdaznan Conference in Leipzig. Through him and Muche, this eastern-oriented, mystical religious teaching gains considerable influence on some of the students – while also exacerbating internal conflicts at the college.
Theo van Doesburg, a member of the Dutch art group De Stijl, stays in Weimar from April 1921 to November 1922, with a few breaks. In the lectures and courses he gives, which are also attended by Bauhaus students, he opposes the Bauhaus’s Expressionist and craft-oriented approach. He advocates his own new concept of constructivist design that takes a positive view of technology. Although van Doesburg represents an opposite pole to the Bauhaus in Weimar, he influences the college’s turn towards industrial design in 1922 and provides inspiration for its formal language up to 1924.
From the beginning of the year, Walter Gropius starts to reassess his ideas about the Bauhaus’s aims. An engagement with industry and its implications for design move into the foreground. During the summer, disputes over this arise with Johannes Itten, the central figure in the early Bauhaus, who rejects it and gradually withdraws.
In April, the first public exhibition with works by the journeymen and apprentices is held, and in July an architectural exhibition by Gropius and Adolf Meyer. In addition, a Bauhaus building society is founded. Wassily Kandinsky is appointed as a teacher, assigned to the workshop for mural painting.
During this period, weaving and pottery are the most important workshops and the only ones making any appreciable contribution to the college’s finances by selling their work. Workshop products that receive approval are from now on signed with a stamp.
In September, Theo van Doesburg is the director of the Dadaist and Constructivist congress in Weimar, with participants also including Kurt Schwitters, Hans Arp, Hans Richter and the later Bauhaus teacher Lászlo Moholy-Nagy. The first performance of Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet is given in Stuttgart the same month.
In February, an exhibition with works by Johannes Ittens and the Bauhaus workshops opens in the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Zurich. Johannes Itten leaves Weimar in March and is replaced by the Constructivist artist László Moholy-Nagy, who becomes the head of the metals workshop and teaches in the preliminary course starting in the autumn. Oskar Schlemmer takes over the theatre department following the departure of Lothar Schreyer.
The Bauhaus takes part in the autumn trade fair in Leipzig for the first time, with weaving, ceramics and metalwork. It is only during this year that workshop production starts up – although the economic situation, and particularly inflation, which reaches its peak during the autumn, make work difficult.
In February, preparations start for the Bauhaus exhibition in August and September – enabling the college to give its first large-scale account of itself. Works from the workshops and classes are shown, along with free art by the masters and an exhibition of international architecture. The Haus am Horn in Weimar, the college’s first independent architectural project, is built, with interior decoration provided by the workshops. In August, the ‘Bauhaus week’ is held, with stage events, concerts and lectures. The college attracts attention throughout Germany through the exhibition.
Walter Gropius formulates a new approach under the motto ‘art and technology – a new unity’, recognizing industry as the defining force of the age. An engagement with industry and machine production becomes a prerequisite for all the rest of the Bauhaus’s work and defines the way it is understood down to the present day.
Since the winter semester, the preliminary course has covered handicrafts with Josef Albers in the first semester and in the second semester a course on ‘Material and Space’ by László Moholy-Nagy, an analysis and design course on ‘Colour’ with Wassily Kandinsky, and a design course on ‘Form’ with Paul Klee.
The elections to the state parliament in Thuringia in February lead to a non-socialist majority, and the Social-Democratic government sympathetic to the Bauhaus is replaced. In September, the new government serves notice on the employment contracts for the Bauhaus masters ‘solicitously’, terminating them in April 1925. In November, only a minority on the parliament’s budgetary committee – consisting of the Communist Party (KPD), Social-Democratic Party (SPD) and German Democratic party (DDP) – votes to approve the college’s grants. These manoeuvres, which are explained on financial grounds but actually politically motivated, make continued work impossible. On 26 December, the masters therefore declare that the Bauhaus is to be closed on 1 April 1925.
A ‘Friends of the Bauhaus’ group is founded to provide moral and practical support for the college. Its board includes Marc Chagall, Albert Einstein and Gerhart Hauptmann, among others.
Negotiations on options for continuing the college are held at the beginning of the year with several cities, including Frankfurt and Dessau. Several of the masters are involved in negotiations regarding other work. Former Bauhaus students such as Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Otto Lindig and Erich Dieckmann stay on as teachers at the successor institution, the ‘Weimar State Architectural College’ under Otto Bartning.
In March, the Dessau Municipal Council decides to take over the Bauhaus as a city college, on the initiative of the mayor, Fritz Hesse. Teaching at the Bauhaus in Dessau starts at the beginning of April. All of the form masters apart from Gerhard Marcks move to Dessau; however, many of the masters and students hesitate and only arrive during the course of the summer. Several former students take over the workshops as ‘young masters’: Herbert Bayer heads the workshop for printing and advertising and Marcel Breuer is in charge of the carpentry workshop. There are also workshops for metalworking, weaving, mural painting, sculpture and theatre. The pottery, woodcarving and sculpture workshops are not reestablished in Dessau. Walter Gropius announces a new programme in which the importance of industry and science become predominant for design. He declares that the task for the Bauhaus is a ‘contemporary development for housing’ that is to range from ‘simple domestic equipment to a complete residence’. Gropius requires ‘systematic experimental work in theory and practice – in the formal, technological and economic fields’. The workshops are described as ‘laboratories’ for manufacturing models for industry. Starting in June, the first series of ‘Bauhaus books’ is published, including works by Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian.
The company Bauhaus Ltd. is founded in November for commercial marketing of the products.
In October, the state government of Saxony-Anhalt recognizes the Bauhaus’s college status and the Bauhaus masters are designated as professors. The Bauhaus starts using the subtitle ‘College of Design’ and the curriculum represents a course of study leading to the award of the Bauhaus Diploma.
The opening ceremony for the new college building in Dessau, designed by Walter Gropius and equipped by the Bauhaus workshops, is held on 4 December, with more than 1000 guests. With its spectacular new buildings – in addition to the college building, residences for the Bauhaus masters and the Dessau-Törten estate are also built – the Bauhaus rises to international fame during this period. This is encouraged by Gropius through publications and numerous lectures given all over Germany on the New Architecture and the Bauhaus. The buildings in Dessau continue to shape the concept of Bauhaus design right down to the present day.
The first issue of the journal bauhaus is published to coincide with the official opening; it appears quarterly up to 1929 and again in 1931.
An architecture department opens in April, with Hannes Meyer appointed as its head. Free painting classes are initiated with Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, for the first time providing a purely artistic training course.
The politicization of the students increases during the year. In July, Georg Muche leaves the Bauhaus and Gunta Stölzl takes over the weaving workshop from him.
Walter Gropius resigns as Director in April in order to work as an architect in Berlin. Along with him, Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer and Marcel Breuer also leave the college.
At Gropius’s suggestion, Hannes Mayer becomes the new Director. Meyer supports a more academic and scientific approach to work and training. Design is to be regarded as an objective process and based on rationally comprehensible findings. Meyer criticizes the Bauhaus’s previous work as formalistic and requires that all aesthetic considerations should be excluded. This type of design is now to have a stronger social basis (‘people’s needs instead of luxury items’), regarded as ‘appropriate to life’ [lebensrichtig].
A travelling exhibition on ‘Young Bauhaus Painters’ is opened in Halle and later seen in Braunschweig, Erfurt and Krefeld.
Two lamp factories start serial production of Bauhaus light models. Serial production also follows for designs from the weaving workshop, which like all of the Bauhaus products were previously only manufactured in the college’s own workshops. The Bauhaus now has 166 students, and the Friends association has 460 members.
The bauhaus-wanderschau (Bauhaus Travelling Exhibition) is shown in the Gewerbemuseum in Basle in April and May and thereafter in Breslau, Mannheim and Zurich. The exhibition provides a representative survey of work at the Bauhaus under Hannes Meyer.
The roofing ceremony for the Trades Union College (Bundesschule) in Bernau, near Berlin, is held in May. All of the workshops have been involved in this, the most important architectural project under Hannes Meyer as Director.
In July, the metalworking workshop, carpentry workshop and mural painting workshop are combined to form the Finishing and Completion workshop, headed by Alfred Arndt. The aim is to achieve greater subordination of all of the workshops to the architectural department. The Bauhaus theatre tours Germany and Switzerland with Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus dances.
Schlemmer leaves Dessau in November and the official theatre department is closed. A photography department is established under photographer Walter Peterhans. Ludwig Hilberseimer, an architect and urban planner, is appointed to the architecture department.
The Bauhaus wallpaper, the college’s most successful and lucrative product, comes onto the market at the beginning of the year.
In the spring, Walter Gropius, Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer and László Moholy-Nagy design the German section for the Paris exhibition of the Société des Artistics Décorateurs Français. The students become increasingly politicized. The Director, Hannes Meyer, is dismissed by the city of Dessau due to his Communist sympathies. Through mediation by Gropius, the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is appointed as director in April and takes up his post in the autumn. Under Mies van der Rohe, the courses are structured into the five departments of Architecture, Finishing and Completion, Weaving, Photography, and Fine Arts. The course of study is made completely academic and shortened to five semesters. Architectural training increases in importance and is strongly oriented towards aesthetic issues, following the treatment of technical architectural issues. The importance of the workshops and thus of industrial design work declines.
Mies van der Rohe attempts to keep the college out of public political debates through an emphatically unpolitical style. He implements this unpolitical approach internally by removing from the college any students who support Hannes Meyer.
In April, Paul Klee takes up an appointment to the Academy in Dusseldorf and leaves the Bauhaus; Gunta Stölzl leaves in October. Municipal elections are held in Dessau in November and the Nazi party becomes the strongest party. One of its major election pledges had been cancellation of grants to the Bauhaus and the demolition of the Bauhaus buildings.
The interior designer Lilly Reich is appointed at the start of the year as head of the Finishing and Completion Department. Political disputes at the college intensify.
On 22 August, the Nazi party’s motion to discontinue teaching work at the Bauhaus from 1 October is accepted by the municipal council by a majority of 20 against five votes from the Communist party and the Mayor, Hesse. The members of the SPD, who had previously provided decisive political support for the Bauhaus, abstain from the vote.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe decides to continue the college as a private institution in Berlin, made possible through licence income, among other sources of finance. A building in the Steglitz district of Berlin is rented starting in October and converted for college use. In the winter semester, the Bauhaus has 114 students. The teachers still include Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Lilly Reich and Walter Peterhans.
On 11 April, the start of the summer semester, the Bauhaus building in Berlin is searched by the police and sealed off. Thirty-two students are temporarily detained. There is considerable uncertainty regarding the future of the college, which is also in financial difficulties.
On 20 July, the conference of teaching staff takes the decision to close the Bauhaus.
In a letter from the Gestapo dated 21 July, any reopening of the Bauhaus is made dependent on several conditions. Wassily Kandinsky and Ludwig Hilberseimer must be replaced by teachers ‘with a basis in the National Socialist ideology’ and a new curriculum must be established that satisfies the ‘requirements of the new state in its inner structure’.
In the subsequent years, the best-known Bauhaus teachers emigrate, including Josef Albers (1933, USA), Wassily Kandinsky (1933, France), Paul Klee (1933, Switzerland), Walter Gropius (1934 Britain; 1937, USA), László Moholy-Nagy (1934, Netherlands; 1935, Britain; 1937, USA), Marcel Breuer (1935, Britain; 1937, USA), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1937, USA), Herbert Bayer (1938, USA) and Walter Peterhans (1938, USA).