Lucia Moholy

Bauhaus Building, Dessau


Lucia Moholy 1894–1989
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 99 × 141 mm
Purchased 2011


Bauhaus Building, Dessau is a small black and white photograph by the Austrian-born photographer Lucia Moholy. Its architectural subject is shot from some distance away so that the entire complex of low-rise modernist buildings stretches across the centre of the picture. The word ‘BAUHAUS’ runs vertically down the darkened end wall of one building at the far left, while a taller building at the far right is lined with regular rows of railed balconies. The buildings are interconnected and fronted by an extensive stretch of landscape in the foreground. Their clean lines and white façades are in contrast to the dark sky above them.

The photograph was taken by Moholy in 1925–6 at the Dessau Bauhaus, an art, architecture and design school, and produced as a gelatin silver print on paper. It is one of hundreds of photographs taken by Moholy to document the buildings, masters’ houses and objects at the Dessau Bauhaus between 1924 and 1928. Some of the photographs were taken before the school opened in 1925. Although Moholy was neither a student nor a teacher at the Bauhaus, she acted as its unofficial photographer, documenting it in photographs that were reproduced during its lifetime and beyond. The title of this photograph is a straightforward description of its subject, an objective form of titling that aligns the work with the tenets of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) photography, which this and related photographs came to represent.

The work appears to document the Dessau Bauhaus in a neutral fashion. In so doing, it reflects the search at the time of both Moholy and her husband, László Moholy-Nagy, for a New Vision or Neue Shen: a new way of seeing in the modern world. The sharply focused photograph with crisp architectural lines – its subject isolated from its surroundings and devoid of figures – seems to offer a degree of objectivity. Yet as historian Robin Schuldenfrei has noted, this photograph and others like it ‘are not neutral entities, but rather help to express the modernist goals of the buildings’ designer’, the architect and founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius (Schuldenfrei 2013, p.185).

These photographs were first reproduced in publicity material for the Dessau Bauhaus, including brochures, posters and magazine articles. However, Moholy was rarely credited for her work, which was often wrongly attributed to Moholy-Nagy or Gropius. The catalogue for the 1938 exhibition Bauhaus 1919–1928, shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, includes a number of such misattributions. A view towards the school’s workshops, for instance, which was attributed to Gropius, is now known to be the work of Moholy (reproduced in Museum of Modern Art 1938, p.103).

Moholy undertook initial training with a local photographer when Moholy-Nagy took up a position at the Weimar Bauhaus in 1923. She subsequently attended the Principal Course in Reproduction Technology at the Leipzig Art Academy. When the couple moved to the Dessau Bauhaus, Moholy took documentary photographs as well as experimental photograms. Moholy left Dessau in 1928 and after a period in Berlin fled Germany, leaving her belongings (including her photographic negatives) behind. Following her arrival in London in 1934, Moholy became a sought-after photographer, capturing prominent sitters such as the Countess of Oxford and Asquith and the writers Ruth Fry and Margaret Goldsmith (all National Portrait Gallery, London). Her book on the history of photography, A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939, was published in 1939. Moholy’s Bauhaus-era negatives were in the possession of Gropius, who was reluctant to relinquish them, but in 1957 he returned 230 of the 560 negatives she made, with 330 remaining missing (Schuldenfrei 2013, p.195).

Further reading
Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius and Ise Gropius (eds.), Bauhaus 1919–1928, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1938, p.103.
Robin Schuldenfrei, ‘Images in Exile: Lucia Moholy’s Bauhaus Negatives and the Construction of the Bauhaus Legacy’, History of Photography, vol.37, no.2, 2013, pp.182–203.
Rose-Carol Washton Long, ‘Lucia Moholy’s Bauhaus Photography and the Issue of the Hidden Jew’, Woman’s Art Journal, Fall/Winter 2014, pp.37–46.

Beth Williamson
April 2016

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

Lucia Moholy moved to Dessau to accompany her husband László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) when he began teaching at the Bauhaus school of art, architecture and design. There she produced many iconic photographs documenting the architecture of the Bauhaus buildings in the mid-1920s.

Gallery label, November 2015

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