How Bauhaus Art Radically Changed the Modern Landscape

white building with blue sky behind it The Shell House, an office building in Berlin, Germany.

Bauhaus was a revolutionary movement that helped transition artists from a nonessential part of the economy to a fundamental institution that influenced everything from architecture to textile and furniture design. The movement began in the early 20th century—a formidable time for a world between wars—and served as the beginning of the commercialization of artwork. Defined by its functionality and streamlined framework, the Bauhaus art movement inspired artists to use their creativity to solve practical problems, leading to colossal shifts in the reception of and regard for the visual arts.

100 years later, the far-reaching influence of the Bauhaus art movement is still visible in modern and minimalist designs, but Bauhaus wasn’t recognized in Germany for its contributions for quite some time. By hosting centennial events across the country, Germany — and the world — is celebrating the impact of a movement that “informs the look and feel of much in your life today, from your subway station to your pencil holder,” according to artnet News

What is Bauhaus Art?

The term “Bauhaus” is comprised of the German words for building (bau) and house (haus). The Bauhaus art movement emphasized the integration of functionality into creative disciplines, which dramatically altered the idea of what art can be, as well as its place in the modern world. The Bauhaus movement began in 1919 at Staatliches Bauhaus, a school in Weimar, Germany founded by German architect Walter Gropius. Gropius was heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, and his combination of hobbies in specialized fields such as architecture and technology established him as a world-renowned designer and instructor. During the interwar period, Gropius turned to art as a form of self-expression; creating objects that valued function over form with an aim to help improve the lives of those around him.

What is the Primary Emphasis of Bauhaus?

One of the movement’s fundamental principles is that Bauhaus pieces make structure the focal point of the work. This allows spectators to come to an understanding that the process of art-making and designing is just as important, if not more important, than the aesthetic of the finished product.

A Brief History of Bauhaus Art

Grey modern building and walkway with a purple sky at sunset

Klingelhöferstraße, The Museum of Design in Tiergarten, Berlin, Germany.

In the decades leading up to Bauhaus, traditional disciplines of fine art such as sculpture and painting were the only art forms revered for their beauty and ingenuity. During the early 20th century, the world was at odds with Germany, and artistic endeavors were perceived as frivolous in comparison to the harsh reality of war. The Bauhaus movement produced more practical forms of artwork such as architecture, interior design, and metalworking. This led to a resurgence of interest in the artistic world as creatives looking to provide for their families were afforded an avenue through which to do so.

The Bauhaus movement was the result of two schools—the Weimar Academy of Arts and the Weimar School of Arts and Crafts—joining. Bauhaus art was not without controversy, and the Bauhaus school was repeatedly targeted by the Nazi regime and forced to relocate elsewhere in Germany several times before its final closure in 1933.

As members of the Bauhaus fled to the United States during World War II, Bauhaus principles spread to new locales. Many of Gropius’ former students began teaching these design principles to a new generation of creatives at universities across the nation. Some followed in his footsteps and founded new schools of art and design. Most notable is The New Bauhaus school in Chicago, later renamed The Institute of Design, which remains a reputable and renowned university to this day.

What is Bauhaus Style?

Bauhaus design mixed construction principles of most contemporary buildings with their artistic vision. Gropius firmly believed that different media could be used together, and this inspired designers move fluidly between practices that had previously been siloed. Founded on the four key design principles below, Bauhaus teachings are still a part of today’s artistic landscape.

white building with blue sky behind it

The Prellerhaus, a building in the Bauhaus Dessau.

Form Follows Function

During World War I, fine art was seen as a noble but unprofitable field. War technology continued to improve, which led to an era of consumer products that were functional but lacked a strong aesthetic. Although American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase “form follows function” in 1986, the concept of producing beautiful objects that also served a purpose was a tenet of Bauhaus design decades earlier. This idea contributed greatly to the worldwide success of Bauhaus artists, as they provided artistic pieces that could still be manufactured on a massive scale.


In order to have an impact on the modern world, Gropius knew that art had to serve a purpose. His teachings focused on reducing the materials used and keeping the design functional. This led to the trend of minimalism both in product design and architecture throughout Germany and the United States. Harsh lines, simple colors, and geometric shapes took precedence throughout most of the designs that came out of the Bauhaus movement.

Architectural Elements

Instead of hiding the complexity of a design, Gropius favored honesty and integrity in every object. Bauhaus artists translated this idea into objects that incorporated open-air architectural elements such as exposed beams and visible metalwork. Designers sought to create sleek and modern objects that worked well in minimalist spaces.

Integrate Technology

Creating a work of art can often be a painstaking process resulting in a single or limited number of pieces sold to the public. With increased access to technology, Bauhaus artists were able to use newer, quicker methods to produce a greater quantity of objects. Because of the reduced production time, these items were sold on a much larger scale, which helped to crystallize Bauhaus’ lasting legacy.

Bauhaus Artists

Artists that came out of Staatliches Bauhaus changed the landscape of modern art, design, architecture, and craft throughout the world. The integration of various media and technological advancements was a staple of the movement, as Gropius encouraged his students to create functional products that intrigued the masses.

Anni Albers (1899–1994)

6 tan an grey patterned textile panels hanging side by side on a blue wall

Installation view of Anni Albers, Six Prayers (1965–1966), at Tate Modern, London.

Anni Albers was born in 1899 in Berlin, Germany and started her artistic career as a painter, studying under Impressionist Martin Brandenburg for several years, It wasn’t until her eventual acceptance into the Bauhaus, however, that she found her true calling. She was initially interested in glass work and design, but at the time women were barred from entering certain workshops within the school. Forced into weaving, she soon began to flourish as she experimented with various textiles and designs. Some of Albers most famous works include Untitled Wall Hanging (1926) and Six Prayers, an abstract panel series she completed from 19651966.

Untitled Wall Hanging is described as a quintessential example of the way Albers fueled the mass-market textile industry. Her focus on a new form of weaving, the triple-weave technique, as well as her use of neutral colors and structured shapes became a model that commercial makers followed to produce textiles in large quantities. Six Prayers was a series of six panels commissioned by The Jewish Museum to commemorate the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Drawing from themes within the Jewish community, Albers shaped the panels after burial markers but used abstract design elements and neutral colors to evoke melancholy and introspection.

László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946)

Laszlo Moholy-Naggy's metal art-piece on a black stand

László Moholy-Nagy, Light Prop for an Electric Stage (Light-Space Modulator).

László Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian photographer, painter, and professor at the Bauhaus who focused heavily on the use of technology and drew upon constructivism in his later work. Consumed by architecture and the beauty of the rapidly-progressing modern world, Moholy-Nagy was a pioneer of photography. He coined the phrase Neues Sehen, or new vision, to describe the unique view only afforded to an artist through a camera. While his work spanned a variety of media, his use of tools and techniques — such as the microscope and radiography — was instrumental in his success.

One of Moholy-Nagy’s most famous sculptures is the Lichtrequisit einer elektrischen Bühne, or Light-Space Modulator, which plays with structure and light to create a piece of art that combines the beauty of traditional design with the technical aspects of the modern world. Thought to be one of the first works of Light Art, Moholy-Nagy presented this piece in Germany in 1930. The conserved work is on view today at The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas.

Marianne Brandt (1893–1983)

modern silver tea pot and two cups

Marianne Brandt, Three-piece tea service set. Sold for $162,500 via Sotheby’s (December 2015).

Marianne Brandt, born Marianne Liebe, began her career as a painter before entering the Bauhaus school at 30 years old. She studied under László Moholy-Nagy and learned metalworking, eventually taking over the position as Director of the Bauhaus. Brandt was instrumental in finding funding for the school, negotiating directly with factories that produced the students’ work throughout the country. She is best known for her modern take on household items such as metal ashtrays and tea sets. Her works were some of the only items still mass-produced during the economic downturn that occurred between the first and second World Wars.

With the goal of creating smaller, more functional household objects, Brandt used modern design techniques to create a tea pot infuser and strainer. Standing at only three inches tall, the infuser provided a stronger, more concentrated taste and solved common dripping and pouring problems present in other designs of the time. Dubbed the ideal Bauhaus object, her tea infuser has remained popular in recent years. An original piece sold in 2007 for an astounding $361,000 at Sotheby’s.

Gertrud Arndt (1903–2000)

Negative portrait of a woman's face looking down by Gertrud Arndt

Gertrud Arndt, Negative Portrait of Wera Meyer-Waldeck. Sold for €52,500 via Grisebach (June 2016).

Gertrud Arndt has been described as one of the most underappreciated artists to emerge from the Bauhaus. This is due in part to her gender, as women were not afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts in certain sectors of the program. After receiving a scholarship to Staatliches Bauhaus in 1923, Arndt pursued her passion in architecture. As the only woman in the program, she was eventually deterred when she felt her work was less appreciated than that of her male colleagues. She studied weaving throughout the rest of her time at Bauhaus, although none of her original designs survived. She is most known for her series of portraits of herself and friends during the early to mid 1930s.

Her series of Maskenportäts, or Masked Portraits, received international acclaim years after their creation and were featured at the Museum Folkwang in 1979. Arndt never commented on the meaning of her work, but her unique interpretations and uses of common feminine elements provoked a discussion on gender roles. Her use of a camera was also revolutionary, as she expanded the idea of what photography could look like for generations to come.

Marcel Breuer (1902–1981)

black and silver industrial chair

Marcel Breuer, Armchair B3 ‘Wassily’. Sold for €10,000 via Auctionata Paddle8 AG (June 2014).

Marcel Breuer was a world-renowned furniture designer and architect. Born in Hungary, Breuer struck out on his own at eighteen years old, and was the youngest student ever to join the Bauhaus. He quickly rose through the ranks, running the carpentry workshop and working closely under the school’s founder, Walter Gropius. Taking the lessons he learned under Gropius’ wing, he traveled the world to create buildings and pieces of furniture still in use today.

While Breuer conceived many industrial-style pieces, his best-known design is the Wassily Chair. Originally named the “Model B3” chair, the object was inspired by the hollow steel handles of bicycles. With a unique structure and a lightweight but sturdy fabric called Eisengarn, the Wassily chair became integral to the modernist aesthetic and has remained in production since. 

The Bauhaus art movement radically changed what it meant to be an artist in the 20th century. What was previously deemed craft or hobby made its way to the forefront of the industry, as media like photography, metalwork, and weaving were used to produce works with mass appeal.

The widespread popularity of this movement affords the modern collector plenty of avenues if they want to incorporate works indicative of the Bauhaus style. Those looking to collect Bauhaus design — from furniture to decorative art — should look for pieces that favor function over form, and use geometric shapes and sharp lines to create a silhouette that demands attention. Creating aesthetically pleasing yet functional objects was at the heart of the Bauhaus movement and fundamentally contributed to its enduring influence, now well into the 21st century.

Sources: Tate | Met Museum | Britannica | Guggenheim | The Art Story