100 Years of Bauhaus

Image: Wassily Kandinsky

2018 is coming to a close and we will soon be at that confusing time when you can’t quite remember what year it is, not to mention the added realisation that partying like it’s 1999 was TWENTY YEARS AGO.

If you’re still with me, have recovered sufficiently from that shock, and have an interest in art and design, 2019 will also mark 100 years of Bauhaus, an anniversary which will be celebrated by galleries and museums around the world.

If you’re unfamiliar with the movement, Bauhaus was a hugely influential modernist art school established by architect Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany, just after the end of the First World War in 1919.

The concept of the school was to unite the worlds of Fine and Applied Arts and to bring together a community of artists working to claim art back from the conservative and elitist traditional art schools and into contact with everyday life.  The school moved to Dessau in 1925, then onto Berlin in 1932 before it was eventually closed by the Nazis in 1933.

Initially the school and its teachers were highly influenced by a number of art movements including Expressionism, Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts, with a real focus on building things with your hands.  In 1923 however, Gropius began to shift the focus to a more productivist approach which would allow for a greater influence on industrial design and society.

When you think of Bauhaus you might immediately conjure up images of stark, modernist architecture but the nature of the school meant that it had broad reach across all forms of art and design, thereby producing a huge array of works which, consequently, still have a huge impact on modern society.

Image: Ferm Living and Cloudberry Living

And the most fascinating thing about the Bauhaus legacy to me is the enduring nature of its central ideas across the disciplines of art, architecture and design today.

Classic Bauhaus motifs include those seen in the images above such as abstract blocks of colour, often primary colour, geometric shapes and a spare or rational approach to design.

Such is the impact of the many of the designs that I still remember the first time that I saw (and sat in) a Wassily chair – designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925.  I was in Nice with my husband to be and we were wandering around a gallery lazily, as you do in the days before kids, when wandering aimlessly is still possible.

I remember very little about anything else in the building but the Wassily chair had such an immediate impact on me that the experience of seeing it still sticks with me today.  Despite being a ripe old 93 years old – and the first chair to use tubular steel in a domestic setting something which seems ubiquitous today – it still feels fresh and relevant and I vowed that it would one day be mine!

In fact, you can still buy the Wassily chair as Knoll acquired the rights to the design and still manufacture it today.

Image: The Wassily Chair, The Conran Shop

Along with Gropius and Breuer, the school benefited from a line up of teachers whose names remain familiar including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Mies van der Rohe.  As well as his memorable work as an Architect, including the National Gallery in Berlin, van der Rohe was also responsible for the design of a chair which has achieved iconic status.

The MR side chair was first created in 1927 and its design was thought to be derived from 19th century iron rocking chairs.  With its steel frame it is reminiscent of Breuer’s design but its simpler form lead some to suggest that it is more enduring still than its more famous counterpart.

Image: The MR Chair, Skandium

Looking at furniture, accessories and home furnishings today it is easy to see the enduring themes of Bauhaus repeated again and again in modern design.  The once revolutionary designs have become so familiar to us today that we hardly notice them which, when you consider how quickly trends come and go in the modern world, is a true testament to how forward thinking Bauhaus proponents were and what skill they had for repeatedly articulating forms that were the height of taste and sophistication.

Image: Freya Lounge Chair, Cult Furniture

If you want to bring a taste of Bauhaus into your home, a chair is a fantastic place to start with my own recent Cult Furniture Freya Lounge Armchair representing a good example of a modern twist on the steel tubular design which is so reminiscent of the era.

Image: Freya Lounge Chair, Lived In 365

Geometric motifs, which remain so popular today are also a great way to play homage to the movement.  Dowsing and Reynolds offer the Bauhaus range of knobs below and the trend for the upcycling of midcentury furniture with geometric design is brilliant way to bring Bauhaus colour and shape into your home.

Image: Bauhaus Knobs at Dowsing and Reynolds

Whilst I’m anxious not to wish away the end of 2018 – I do bloomin’ love Christmas after all – 2019 will be a fascinating year for design as a host of galleries and museums worldwide celebrate a century of Bauhaus.  Expect to see its influence expressed even more freely across a whole range of disciplines as we pay homage to a movement which changed the direction of modern design.