The Bauhaus Turns 100

The Bauhaus Turns 100


This November, celebrate the Bauhaus school's centennial at the Impressionist & Modern Art Day and Contemporary Art Day auctions.

O n April 12, 1919, exactly one hundred years ago, the doors of the Bauhaus opened to welcome its first ever class of students. This happening marked a watershed in art history, notwithstanding that the German art school was active for only fourteen years, and graduated fewer than 500 students. Despite the school’s relatively brief lifespan, the institution’s pedagogy remained revolutionary for generations. The Bauhaus’s curriculum encouraged artists to transcend the concrete barriers that historically exist between fine art and craft – impelling both students and teachers to marry a diverse array of formal techniques.

Founded in Weimar by Walter Gropius, the institution relocated in 1925 to Dessau, and thereafter to Berlin in 1932. In 1933, the Bauhaus was forced to shutter its gates, catalyzed by the entrance of the Third Reich. Throughout the years it was open, the school offered students a broad selection of design courses, each approximately spanning a six-month period, including woodworking, furniture, textiles, typography, stained glass, metalworking, photography, light fixtures, in addition to painting and sculpture.

Moreover, a pantheon of artists taught at the Bauhaus, such titans of art history as Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers, Paul Klee and Lyonel Feininger. And on offer this November in the Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale, as well as the Contemporary Art Day Sale, are their works – all displaying the formal investigations present at the Bauhaus school. Here, celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the Bauhaus by uncovering pieces composed by the institution’s pioneering professors.

Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky, Hartweich (Hard Soft), No. 390, 1930. Estimate $500,000–700,000.

E xecuted in 1930 while he was teaching at the Bauhaus, Hartweich (Hard Soft), No. 390 embodies the aesthetic principles Kandinsky promoted to his students. The Bauhaus relocated to Dessau from Weimar in 1925, and Kandinsky found the living and working conditions extremely favorable in this new environment. Radical examples of modern architecture were constructed for workshops and faculty residences, and Kandinsky shared a house with Paul Klee that overlooked the park. Kandinsky's served as a professor alongside Feininger and László Moholy-Nagy and provided the students with mandatory introductory courses in art and design, as well as lectures on the most innovative artistic theories of the day.

During his time at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky’s mode of artistic expression underwent significant change, and his experience with the Russian avant-garde and the Revolution had a particularly profound impact on his art.

Wassily Kandinsky, Schwacher Bogen (Weak Arc), 1929. Estimate $250,000–350,000.

Kandinsky was probably introduced to the use of the spray technique in his watercolors by Klee, his close friend and neighbor at the Bauhaus. First used in 1927, it was a technique that characterized most of Kandinsky's works on paper from 1928-30. Vivian Endicott Barnett has written of the spray technique:

“The elements begin to hover and glide, become transparent, and seem even more immaterial than other works of the Bauhaus period.”
Vivian Endicott Barnett & Armin Zweite, Kandinsky, Watercolors and Drawings, Munich, 1992, p. 28
Wassily Kandinsky, Montée des grilles, 1939. Estimate $180,000–250,000.

In 1933, subsequent to the Bauhaus's closing, Kandinsky relocated to Paris to seek refuge from politcal tensions in Germany. While his development was strongly influenced in the 1920s by his Bauhaus colleague Paul Klee, whose watercolors and oil paintings of these years demonstrate similar artistic predilections, Kandinsky’s production in Paris took a different direction. The stimulation of Surrealist Paris inspired a shift from primary colors to pastels. Although Kandinsky was well aware of Surrealism – he had exhibited with the proto-surrealist Dada group in Zurich in 1916 and the Surrealists in Paris in 1933 – he never identified as one. Their emphasis on automatic writing and the unconscious was far from his concept of “inner necessity” which drew him instead toward ideas of nature and natural growth.

Wassily Kandinsky, Étude pour "Contrastes reduits", 1941. Estimate $400,000–600,000.

Étude pour "Contrastes réduits" is an intricate gouache from Kandinsky's mature Parisian period that underscores a radical change from his Bauhaus output.

Relieved from his duties as a professor at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky used the relative freedoms afforded by his time in Paris to concentrate wholly on his art. The artist's wife, Nina, noted:

“Certainly in his Parisian period Kandinsky is wholly present. We discover there a Kandinsky who remembers everything that during the course of his work he appears to have forgotten only in order to concentrate the essence and to give us, in this dazzling final firework, the ultimate and thrilling images...”
quoted in Kandinsky, Parisian Period 1934-1944 (exhibition catalogue), M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1969, p. 25

Amid the fraught political atmosphere of the early twentieth century, Kandinsky's works rose above the competing schools of artistic thought and thoroughly altered the course of art history. Myriad artistic manifestations derived from his exploration of abstraction have flourished, emerging in great variety. He has influenced countless generations of artists, including the Black Mountain College colorist Josef Albers and the Contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.

Paul Klee

Paul Klee, Physiognomisches Rätsel (Physiognomic Riddle), 1921. Estimate $30,000–50,000.

P aul Klee was born in Switzerland on December 18, 1879. Trained in painting in Munich, Klee eventually settled in Bern, Germany in 1902 to begin his professional career. Initially working as an etcher, Klee was introduced to the avant-gardist Wassily Kandinsky in 1911, and thereafter exhibited alongside him in the second Blaue Reiter exhibition in 1912.

Much like Kandinsky, Klee received an invitation to teach at the Bauhaus in Weimar and subsequently served as a professor in Dessau in 1931.

Paul Klee, Gelagert (Layered), 1937. Estimate $100,000–150,000.

“Only abstraction of the transitory remained. The world was my subject, even though it was not the visible world. Polyphonic painting is superior to music in that, here, the time element becomes the spatial element.”
Paul Klee, On Modern Art, London & Boston, 1979, n.p.

Lyonel Feininger

Lyonel Feininger, Hästende Leute (Hurried People), 1907. Estimate $100,000–150,000.

D espite being born in New York City to German-American parents, Feininger established his art career in Europe, in alignment with German Expressionism and the European avant-garde. He worked as a caricaturist for American and German magazines including Harper’s Round Table, Berliner Tageblatt, and Humoristische Blätter, and exhibited in the Berlin Secession exhibitions from 1901 to 1903. He spent 1906 to 1908 working in Paris and exhibiting with Der Blaue Reiter in 1913, with Cubo-Expressionist compositions that feature imagery that recall architectural and nautical structures.

In 1919, Walter Gropius invited him to teach at the newly formed Bauhaus, where he served as the head of the print workshop. This early work is likely related to a drawing Lyonel Feininger executed for the Parisian magazine Le Témoin. Another of these drawings, The White Man, inspired an oil Feininger completed the following year that would propel his entry into the world of avant-garde painting.

With this new medium, he was able to take greater compositional risks, creating striking tonal contrasts and using daring color combinations in a similar manner to the Fauves. But Feininger would never completely abandon his allegiance to draftsmanship and increasingly emphasized its importance in his oil compositions over the following years.

Josef Albers

Josef Albers, Variant/Adobe, 1948-55. Estimate $250,000–350,000.

J osef Albers, alongside Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Lyonel Feininger was appointed as a professor at Bauhaus. After the Bauhaus’s closure, Albers departed for the United States to teach at a series of art schools, including the renowned Black Mountain College.

Albers most recognizable and famous work is his “Homage to the Square” series, comprised of a succession of highly geometric and abstract paintings that make color as, if not more, important than the formal composition itself. Consisting of three or four squares meticulous placed within one another, their various colors place focus on the contrast between shades rather than the specific shape. He preferred the use of geometric shapes to emphasis their man-made quality, and this stylistic device further distanced the work from anything that might be considered naturalistic.

“All Variants are built on an underlying checkerboard-like structure. This provides a definitive relationship of all parts and therefore unification of form...The underlying units—permit a precise relationship of the areal quantities of the colors used...As to the colors themselves, they are unmixed. They are applied with a palette knife directly from the tube to the panel, in one primary coat without under or over painting, without any correction...Consequently I have deprived myself of great light contrasts. As there are no shaded or tinted colors, there is no modulation, all color areas are flat and of definite shapes joining along the contours tightly...The appearance of translucency or intermixture or film-like overlapping are achieved by the proper juxtaposition of pure color only.”
Josef Albers
Josef Albers, Study to Homage to the Square: Three Reds and Ochre, 1956. Estimate $300,000–400,000.

“Once one has had the experience of the interaction of color, one finds it necessary to re-integrate one’s whole idea of color and seeing in order to preserve the sense of unity...When you really understand that each color is changed by a changed environment, you eventually find that you have learned about life as well as about color.”
Josef Albers

Contemporary Art

About the Author

More from Sotheby's

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.