The school was founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar on April 1, 1919, as a merger of the Weimar Saxon Grand Ducal Art School and the Weimar Academy of Fine Art. Its roots lay in the arts and crafts school founded by the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in 1906, and directed by Belgian Art Nouveau architect Henry van de Velde. When van de Velde was forced to resign in 1915 because he was Belgian, he suggested Gropius, Hermann Obrist, and August Endell as possible successors. In 1919, after delays caused by World War I and a lengthy debate over who should head the institution and the socio-economic meanings of a reconciliation of the fine arts and the applied arts (an issue which remained a defining one throughout the school’s existence), Gropius was made the director of a new institution integrating the two called the Bauhaus. In the pamphlet for an April 1919 exhibition entitled Exhibition of Unknown Architects, Gropius proclaimed his goal as being “to create a new guild of craftsmen, without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist.” Gropius’s neologism Bauhaus references both building and the Bauh?tte, a premodern guild of stonemasons. The early intention was for the Bauhaus to be a combined architecture school, crafts school, and academy of the arts. Swiss painter Johannes Itten, German-American painter Lyonel Feininger, and German sculptor Gerhard Marcks, along with Gropius, comprised the faculty of the Bauhaus in 1919. By the following year their ranks had grown to include German painter, sculptor, and designer Oskar Schlemmer who headed the theatre workshop, and Swiss painter Paul Klee, joined in 1922 by Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky. A tumultuous year at the Bauhaus, 1922 also saw the move of Dutch painter Theo van Doesburg to Weimar to promote De Stijl (“The Style”), and a visit to the Bauhaus by Russian Constructivist artist and architect El Lissitzky.
The main building of the Bauhaus-University Weimar. Built between 1904 and 1911 and designed by Henry van de Velde to house the sculptors studio at the Grand Ducal Saxon Art School, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Foyer of the Bauhaus-University Weimar, with Jugendstil (art nouveau) staircase
From 1919 to 1922 the school was shaped by the pedagogical and aesthetic ideas of Johannes Itten, who taught the Vorkurs or “preliminary course” that was the introduction to the ideas of the Bauhaus. Itten was heavily influenced in his teaching by the ideas of Franz Ci?ek and Friedrich Wilhelm August Fr?bel. He was also influenced in respect to aesthetics by the work of the Der Blaue Reiter group in Munich, as well as the work of Austrian Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka. The influence of German Expressionism favoured by Itten was analogous in some ways to the fine arts side of the ongoing debate. This influence culminated with the addition of Der Blaue Reiter founding member Wassily Kandinsky to the faculty and ended when Itten resigned in late 1923. Itten was replaced by the Hungarian designer L?szl? Moholy-Nagy, who rewrote the Vorkurs with a leaning towards the New Objectivity favoured by Gropius, which was analogous in some ways to the applied arts side of the debate. Although this shift was an important one, it did not represent a radical break from the past so much as a small step in a broader, more gradual socio-economic movement that had been going on at least since 1907, when van de Velde had argued for a craft basis for design while Hermann Muthesius had begun implementing industrial prototypes.
Gropius was not necessarily against Expressionism, and in fact, himself in the same 1919 pamphlet proclaiming this “new guild of craftsmen, without the class snobbery”, described “painting and sculpture rising to heaven out of the hands of a million craftsmen, the crystal symbol of the new faith of the future.” By 1923, however, Gropius was no longer evoking images of soaring Romanesque cathedrals and the craft-driven aesthetic of the “V?lkisch movement”, instead declaring “we want an architecture adapted to our world of machines, radios and fast cars.” Gropius argued that a new period of history had begun with the end of the war. He wanted to create a new architectural style to reflect this new era. His style in architecture and consumer goods was to be functional, cheap and consistent with mass production. To these ends, Gropius wanted to reunite art and craft to arrive at high-end functional products with artistic merit. The Bauhaus issued a magazine called Bauhaus and a series of books called “Bauhausb?cher”. Since the Weimar Republic lacked the number of raw materials available to the United States and Great Britain, it had to rely on the proficiency of a skilled labour force and an ability to export innovative and high-quality goods. Therefore, designers were needed and so was a new type of art education. The school’s philosophy stated that the artist should be trained to work with the industry.
Weimar was in the German state of Thuringia, and the Bauhaus school received state support from the Social Democrat-controlled Thuringian state government. The school in Weimar experienced political pressure from conservative circles in Thuringian politics, increasingly so after 1923 as political tension rose. One condition placed on the Bauhaus in this new political environment was the exhibition of work undertaken at the school. This condition was met in 1923 with the Bauhaus’ exhibition of the experimental Haus am Horn. The Ministry of Education placed the staff on six-month contracts and cut the school’s funding in half. The Bauhaus issued a press release on 26 December 1924, setting the closure of the school for the end of March 1925. At this point it had already been looking for alternative sources of funding. After the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, a school of industrial design with teachers and staff less antagonistic to the conservative political regime remained in Weimar. This school was eventually known as the Technical University of Architecture and Civil Engineering, and in 1996 changed its name to Bauhaus-University Weimar.
End of the Bauhaus
Mies van der Rohes solution to Nazi intervention in the school was to move it to an empty telephone factory in Berlin and designate it a private institution. But the National Socialists continued to harass the school, attacking what the Nazis perceived as a Soviet Communist ideology and demanding that Nazi sympathizers replace select faculty members.
The faculty flatly refused to work with the Nazis, and rather than cooperate with the them, the school was closed in 1933 by the facultys vote.
Following this decision, Mies van der Rohe, Gropius, the Albers and many others within the Bauhaus school fled to the United States, where they continued to have a profound and lasting influence on 20th-century art and design.
The Bauhaus and the city
In Dessau the Bauhaus was able to directly realise its desire to play a part in shaping modern society. Dessau in the 1920s is an up-and-coming industrial location, with Lord Mayor Fritz Hesse, engineer Hugo Junkers and state-appointed conservator Ludwig Grote as its driving forces. In 1924, when the Bauhaus was compelled to leave Weimar for political reasons, other cities such as Frankfurt am Main, Darmstadt and Magdeburg competed to host the Bauhaus school. Dessau then emerged victorious.
The school of design, designed by Walter Gropius and financed by the city, opened in 1926. Some 1,500 guests from all over the world arrived in Dessau for the inauguration.