Lot 63
  • 63

Herbert Bayer 1900-1985

250,000 - 350,000 USD
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  • Herbert Bayer
  • 'metamorphosis'
photomontage with gouache, a unique object, mounted to illustration board, matted, framed, 1936


The photographer to Joella Bayer, his wife

Acquired by Kaspar Fleischmann, Zürich, from the above, 1987

Christie's New York, Twenty Years: Celebrating Galerie zur Stockeregg, Zürich, 4 October 1999, Sale 9306, Lot 23

Acquired by Nancy Richardson from the above


Los Angeles, herbert bayer: photographic works, ARCO Center for Visual Art, April -- May 1977

New York, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, herbert bayer: photographic works (an abridged version of the ARCO exhibition), October 1977 -- January 1978

Zürich, Galerie zur Stockeregg, Herbert Bayer: Vintage Works, May - August 1987


Leland Rice and Beaumont Newhall, herbert bayer: photographic works (Los Angeles: ARCO Center for Visual Art, 1977, in conjunction with the exhibition), pl. 67 (this object)

Other reproductions of this image:

Arthur Cohen, Herbert Bayer: The Complete Work (MIT Press, 1984), p. 275

Maria Morris Hambourg and Christopher Phillips, The New Vision: Photography Between the World Wars, Ford Motor Company Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988, in conjunction with the exhibition), pl. 83

Dawn Ades, Photomontage (London, 1976), pl. 93

Jeannine Fiedler, Andreas Haus, et al., Photography at the Bauhaus (MIT Press, 1990, in conjunction with the exhibition), pl. 91

Gwen Chanzit, Herbert Bayer: Collection and Archive at the Denver Art Museum (University of Washington Press, 1988), p. 86

Mark Haworth-Booth, Photography: An Independent Art: Photographs from the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 1997), cover and p. 118


This unique work is made from a number of photographic prints mounted to a thick sheet of illustration board. Portions of the image consist of hand-applied gray and black pigment, as well as some airbrushing. Upon close examination, it becomes apparent that Bayer utilized photographs printed on at least two different types of photographic paper: the geometric shapes were rendered on paper with a semi-glossy surface, while the background is on paper with a glossy, possibly ferrotyped, surface. Bayer has seamlessly combined all of these various media to create a seamless whole. The piece is in excellent condition and has obviously been cared for throughout its life. When one examines the piece closely, a number of inconsistencies in the prints' surfaces can be seen in raking light. The tip of the cone shape on the right side of the image is lifting very slightly from the print, as is the edge of the disk near the center. These do not represent serious condition issues and are only visible upon close examination.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The object offered here is the original fotoplastik created by Herbert Bayer in 1936.  The work is composed of several photographic elements, artfully combined into a cohesive whole with the aid of Bayer's expert airbrushing and handwork.  In 1936, and later in 1968, Bayer issued small editions of copy photographs of the original photomontage for Metamorphosis and other fotoplastiken, and it is primarily through these second-generation prints that the images are known.  The Metamorphosis offered here is the original montage from which all subsequent generations of prints of this image have been made. 

The Austrian-born Bayer became interested in art as a boy; by the time he attended the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1921, he had already worked as a professional commercial artist and graphic designer in Linz and Darmstadt, Germany.  At the Bauhaus, he studied mural painting under Wassily Kandinsky.  Between 1925 and 1928, he was an instructor at the Bauhaus, teaching typography and advertising design.  In the late 1920s and 1930s, Bayer worked in Berlin, and it is during this period that he created the series of works that he referred to as fotoplastiken, including Metamorphosis  (cf. herbert bayer: photographic works, plates 65 - 74). 

As Bayer authority, Leland Rice, recounts, Bayer created his fotoplastiken (literally 'photo sculptures') by first photographing objects in his studio.  A meticulous photographic craftsman, Bayer carefully arranged his materials before the camera and, in the case of Metamorphosis, lighted the differently-shaped blocks to create the desired modulation of highlights and shadows.  Bayer combined the resulting photographs, sometimes with found imagery, expertly assembling all of the elements into a homogenous composition that was, simultaneously, fictitious and credible (ibid., pp. 8-9).     

Throughout Bayer's brief career as a photographer, which lasted roughly from 1926 to 1938, he consistently pushed the medium's boundaries, and continually approached his compositions with intelligence, imagination, and a sly sense of humor.  In Metamorphosis, a cluster of man-made geometric shapes seems to have gathered hesitantly on the verge of a natural landscape.  In Self-Portrait (ibid., pl. 64), the photographer looks in mock horror as he removes a portion of his arm in front of a mirror to reveal not flesh and bone, but an opaque stone-like interior.    

Metamorphosis is perhaps Bayer's most accomplished fotoplastik, with its seamless fusing of images and handwork, and its wholly believable rendering of an imaginary space.  Like the best of Bayer's fotoplastiken and photomontages, Metamorphosis depends for its impact not only upon a precise Bauhaus-inspired handling of materials, but also upon a clever juxtaposition of disparate images that creates a dreamlike totality bordering on the Surreal.