I n 1920 Oskar Schlemmer was invited by Walter Gropius to join the Bauhaus school, and it was here that his investigations in to the subjects that captivated him flourished, against the backdrop of the radical learning environment.
Schlemmer’s contemporaries included many of the 20th century’s most liberated thinkers such as Paul Klee, whose main area of research was colour theory – on which he wrote several books and essays; Wassily Kandinsky, who devoted his Bauhaus years to the evolution of abstraction, and how it related to psychology and spirituality, and other artists such as Josef and Anni Albers, Lyonel Feininger and László Moholy-Nagy. Together, this group formed a strong philosophical pathway through the developing story of modernism.
During his years at the Bauhaus, first in Weimar and later in Dessau, Schlemmer worked as the ‘master’ of mural, wood and metal workshops and was also passionate about architecture and dance. Fascinated by the synthesis of art and architecture, in his paintings he focused on positioning figures within a pictorial space, which he formed by opposing horizontal, vertical and diagonal planes.
The influence of the Bauhaus is still keenly felt today in architecture, graphic design, and the visual arts, with buildings, objects and images following in the footsteps of these early pioneers. Tischgesellschft (Group at Table) exemplifies Schlemmer’s ongoing desire to investigate the human body as it related to its environs. While until this point Schlemmer’s work had strictly emphasised the flatness of the picture plane, with his work on the stage production he started introducing the third dimension into his paintings.
Probably more than any other artist of the Bauhaus, Schlemmer strove to achieve a synthesis of the arts, formulated by the movement’s founder Walter Gropius. Schlemmer’s path towards this synthesis involved combining dance, stage and costume design as well as architecture with the three-dimensional medium of painting.
The present work was executed shortly after the creation of Schlemmer’s Das Triadische Ballett (The Triadic Ballet), which had its premiere in Stuttgart in September 1922. His work on various aspects of this theatrical production certainly influenced the artist’s view of the relationship between figure and space, a central theme of Tischgesellschaft which was painted the following year.
With its sharply receding lines of perspective, the present composition and the related works on paper (fig. 1) bring to mind studies in perspective by the Italian Quattrocento masters. Schlemmer wanted to submit his intuition to rational control, but rejected the theory of pure abstraction developed by Kandinsky and his Bauhaus colleagues, choosing instead to integrate figurative subjects into most of his works.
He sought to capture the feeling of space, not by showing the identity or individual gestures of his figures, but by reducing them to simplified forms that become purely a function of the space surrounding them.
“My themes – the human figure in space, its moving and stationary functions, sitting, lying, walking, standing – are as simple as they are universally valid.”
— Oskar Schlemmer
The present work forms part of the collection of Dr Erika Pohl-Ströher, which includes a number of works on paper also by Schlemmer, alongside Willi Baumeister, Alexej von Jawlensky and Max Ernst. Further works will be offered in the Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale on 27 February; Contemporary Art Day Auction on 6 March. Miniatures from the collection will be offered at Sotheby’s London in May and July 2019.