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Book reviews

Bauhaus Women: a Global Perspective

Elizabeth Otto and Patrick Rössler (Herbert Press, 192pp, £30)

Reviewed by Elizabeth Darling
March 2019

The Bauhaus centenary has seen a slew of publications celebrating the influence and global reach of what was arguably the most significant design school of the 20th century. Among these, Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective moves our focus away from a discussion of the men of the Bauhaus (Gropius, Breuer, Meyer, Bayer and so on) and widens our understanding and appreciation of the many women who helped shape the school and its legacy – whether as Bauhäusler or ‘master’ – is to be welcomed. Editors Elizabeth Otto and Patrick Rössler bring us a book that combines an introductory text with 45 biographical essays on Bauhaus women, chosen, they tell us, as a representative sample: for the quality of their surviving work, the availability of biographical information, and the diversity of their skills and lives both before and after the Bauhaus. Their introduction is a perhaps a little condensed, but is nevertheless informative. It sketches the school’s history across its three sites – Weimar, Dessau, Berlin – and sets women’s presence in the school against the wider political realignments of post-war Germany. It argues that, far from being funnelled into the textile workshops (where, of course, they excelled, as the Tate’s recent retrospective of Anni Albers demonstrated), female Bauhaus students studied across disciplines and also produced innovative work in photography, ceramics and architecture. Approximately one third of the school’s intake was women, and, while the Bauhaus was not unique in accepting them (women’s equality was integral to the new Weimar Republic) it was notable for the extent to which male and female students intermingled, especially once it relocated to Dessau. Here, the purpose-built school facilitated association in its workshops and social spaces. Not surprisingly, this made the school attractive to those who wanted to live new, modern lives, and it is fascinating to discover that a contemporary newspaper coined the idea of the ‘Bauhaus-girl type’ in its discussion of role models for young women who wanted to get on in the world. The bulk of the book is devoted to essays on individual women, most of them written by Otto and Rössler but some by contributing authors with expertise on a particular subject. Some the women will be familiar names: Marianne Brandt or Lilly Reich, for example, but the majority will not, and it is getting their names in print – documented historically – which makes this book so useful. I was intrigued to read about the only Irish student (Stella Steyn) and the only Japanese student (Michiko Yamawaki), as well as the German and Austrian women who made up most of the student body. Each woman’s life is accompanied by a truly wonderful range of images of their work (I was taken with a striking photomontage by Friedl Dicker, and the photography of Grete Stern). Interpersed with entries on students, the authors also include discussions of women who taught at the school, or who otherwise contributed to its existence. It was Lucia Moholy’s photography that established the visual image of the school in its heyday and Ise Gropius (‘Frau Bauhaus’ as she was known) who did much to persuade the mayor of Dessau to fund the school’s relocation to the city. She also later helped her non-English speaking husband Walter in his new life in England and, later, the USA. As the authors put it, this book offers ‘a colourful and multifaceted perspective’ on being a woman at the Bauhaus. It is a rich compendium of their work and one that will interest many C20 Society members (who may also wish to know that work by Lucia Moholy and Bauhäuslers Edith Tudor Hart and Grete Marks is on show at a Tate Britain display, The Bauhaus and Britain, until November).


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