Lot 19
  • 19

Herbert Bayer

200,000 - 300,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Herbert Bayer
  • Gelatin silver print
  • 15 5/8 x 11 7/8 inches
an early photograph after the original photomontage, signed and dated in the negative, 1932, printed no later than 1936; accompanied by the original frame backing with a 1936 Salzburger Jahresausstellung exhibition label, with photographer’s typed information and Berlin studio address


Jean Bernard Gillot, Paris, 2006


Salzburg, Salzburger Jahresausstellung, 1936


Beaumont Newhall and Leland Rice, Herbert Bayer: Photographic Works (Arco Center for Visual Art, 1977), p. 79

Van Deren Coke, Avant-Garde Photography in Germany 1919-1939 (Munich, 1982), pl. 99

Annette and Rudolf Kicken, Simone Förster, Points of View: Masterpieces of Photography and Their Stories (Göttingen, 2007), p. 140

Catalogue Note

This large-format, early exhibition print of one of Bayer’s most celebrated images was shown in the 1936 Jahresausstellung in Salzburg, Austria.  Unmöglich synthesizes Bayer’s great control over the photographic medium with his puckish sense of humor: the artist himself, striking a classical pose in front of a mirror, removes a section of his arm to reveal not flesh and bone, but an opaque stone-like interior.  Balancing parody with sophisticated photographic technique, Bayer created one of the most memorable photomontages of the 20th century.  Like the best of Bayer’s photomontages—including Lonely Metropolitan and Metamorphosis—Unmöglich crosses the line separating pure Modernism and Surrealism. 

By the time the young Austrian-born Bayer attended the Bauhaus in Weimar, he had already worked as a professional commercial artist and graphic designer.  At the Bauhaus, he studied under Wassily Kandinsky and later became an instructor there in 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 his fotoplastiken (literally 'photo sculptures'), including Unmöglich.

Bayer brought all of his talent as a photographer and graphic artist to bear on the fotoplastiken.  A meticulous craftsman, he combined a number of photographic elements and expertly assembled them into a homogenous and credible composition.  This print of Unmöglich was made directly from Bayer’s original 1932 fotoplastik, and offers a window into the artist's working methods. The edges of the image show Bayer's use of pins to hold the original photomontage in place in order to photograph it. Penciled crop lines at the very edge of the original are rendered here photographically, and this print allows us to see the full dimensions of the original photomontage.

The present photograph is a rare example from the first generation of prints Bayer made of his photomontages in the 1930s.