After our series of lessons from Paul Klee's Pedagogical Sketchbook, our blogs editor sits down with curator Matthew Gale for some wider reflections on the great Bauhaus school
Over a series of six lessons, we decoded (well, we tried) Paul Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook:
- Lesson one: Line
- Lesson two: Structure
- Lesson three: Nature
- Lesson four: Perspective
- Lesson five: Balance
- Lesson six: Colour
But Paul Klee was just one teacher of many at the Bauhaus – so Matthew, how does he fit in with the wider Bauhaus story?
Well, Klee, like a lot of the teachers who arrived right near the beginning of the Bauhaus – Itten, Mucha, Schlemmer, to some degree Kandinsky – come out of a position rooted in expressionism. So, with the cosmic stuff about the place of the individual in the world, and that confronted with the First World War, you had a push and pull between a sense of national identity and individual mortality. And out of that, the Bauhaus is offering a way of building a new education, and a new world, through essentially marrying art and craft, making things with your hands. A break came in 1923 when Walter Gropius, who founded the Bauhaus, started to re-orientate it towards a more productivist view, that what they were making could feed industrial design and make a new society, rather than just be a craft. So that’s when things like the tubular chair came in.
I see…So Klee’s mysticism was in the Bauhaus’ early years?
Well, he’s a bit like the arrow passing through, because as the Bauhaus diverges towards an industrial aesthetic, Klee and Kandinsky are the people left speaking up for the creative imagination. By the time the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925, if it weren’t for them, it would have just been an industrial design school. And, it’s indicative that when they moved to Dessau, Klee and Kandinsky start teaching a free painting class – it had all been based around craft workshops before, but people felt that they wanted to tap into this cosmic creativity in order to infuse the way they were thinking about making bent metal chairs, or teapots.
So you mention Gropius and Kandinsky, who are the other Bauhaus figures we should know about?
- Walter Gropius because he’s the founder and a key figure, but he left in ‘26, I think.
- Wassily Kandinsky is the longest serving teacher at the Bauhaus.
- Johannes Itten is very important for setting up the initial preliminary course and for his theories of how to teach art, and trying to break the habitual.
- His position was then filled by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who came with an idea of constructivist painting from Russia and photography, and the importance of this sort of typography, for instance.
- Oskar Schlemmer to some extent in how the performative takes place at the Bauhaus.
- Josef Albers, also for his longevity there; he’d been a student then he became a junior master.
- Marcel Breuer, who designed the famous chairs.
- Gunta Stölzl, who was the head of the tapestry workshop and the only woman master, and didn’t really get the same recognition as the men. It’s all rather sort of awful when one looks back on what should be an ideal egalitarian institution, actually not living up to its own standards. You can see 25 of her sketches with full tapestries in the V&A collection.
- Then when Gropius leaves, then Hannes Meyer becomes director, an architect, and his period at the Bauhaus was quite short and slightly fraught. It was a mode of more politicisation of the student party, for which he took the rap essentially and got sacked.
- And then, the final director was Mies van der Rohe, another famous architect. Mies presided over the transfer to Berlin, which was the final stage of the Bauhaus, and the unhappy phase of having to shut it down under pressure from the Nazis. And there are many legacies to all of this; Gropius came to Britain with Moholy and Breuer and they were in London for a number of years, and then transferred to the space where Moholy set up the new Bauhaus in Chicago.
What further reading might you suggest?
And then Moholy-Nagy’s Painting Photography Film, which followed. Mondrian and van Doesburg wrote books in the same series too, it was an amazing group of works. Mondrian is coming up at Tate Liverpool too – it’s part of that whole interconnection of thinking about what it means to make art at that particular moment, at that high point in modernism.
You could also try The Bauhaus Group: Six Masters of Modernism by Nicholas Fox-Weber.
Thank you Matthew, for this incredible introduction. Good luck all you Bauhauslers.
The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee: Making Visible is at Tate Modern from 16 October 2013 – 9 March 2014