Forgotten and unrecognized: Female artists at the Bauhaus | Arts | DW | 12.04.2019
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Forgotten and unrecognized: Female artists at the Bauhaus

Of the many women who enrolled at the Bauhaus school in Weimar in 1919, few went on to become famous, unlike the men. Different works and exhibitions now pay tribute to their innovative artistic contributions.

Where there's wool, there's also a woman who will spin it, even if it is just to pass the time, wrote Oskar Schlemmer, a painter who taught at the Bauhaus art school in Weimar beginning in 1920. The condescending remark about women in the arts is echoed by Johannes Itten, who gave an introductory class every Bauhaus student was required to take: He argued that women can only see "two-dimensionally" so they should stick to working with plane surfaces.

Today, 100 years after Walter Gropius founded the famous School of Design in Weimar, Bauhaus female artists are slowly coming to the surface. Several new publications about Bauhaus women — all of them written by women — have been published on the occasion of the anniversary.

Exhibitions with a focus on Bauhaus women

In 1919, the Bauhaus art school's program promised a modern education for the gifted, regardless of age or gender. In the summer semester of 1919, 84 female and 79 male students enrolled at the Weimar school. Several exhibitions now present the works of these women for the first time: "4 Bauhaus Girls" is on show in Erfurt, and both the Tate Gallery in London and the K20 art collection in Düsseldorf honored the painter Anni Albers with a retrospective.

Margarete Heymann-Loebenstein (Gemeinfrei)

Talented ceramics designer Margarete Heymann-Loebenstein

The "2 of 14" exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts Cologne (MAKK) gives visitors a close look at the careers and lives of two women from this western German city who were students at the Weimar Bauhaus school. The parents of 19-year-old Margarete Heymann had to give their written consent allowing the young woman to enroll in art classes there in the first place. She spent the first half year in Itten's introductory ceramics workshop, a trial period.

Margarete Heymann's plight

Workshop master Gerhard Marcks and his colleague Max Krehan presumably made life hard for the ambitious, talented young student — just because she was a woman. There were no other women in the ceramics workshop in Dornburg, and to make sure it stayed exclusively male, Margarete Heymann was told after her trial period that she had artistic talent but was not "suitable for the workshop." Today, we'd call that bullying, said curator Romana Rebbelmund.

Margarete Heymann did not finish her training at the art school, and she wasn't the only woman to leave. Of a total of 186 graduates, only 36 were women, Rebbelmund says, adding that most of the female artists ended up in the weaving mill, known back then by the disrespectful name "women's class."

A mocha set with the famed disc handles (RBA Köln/Marion Mennicken)

Margarete Heymann's mocha set, with the famed disc handles

Large-scale ceramic series

Heymann was talented and she had a good sense for business, too. After leaving the Bauhaus school, she married Gustav Loebenstein, an economist, in 1923. At the time, she had already had her first ceramics exhibition at a museum in her hometown.

She and her husband founded the famous Haël Workshops for Artistic Ceramics at Marwitz in Brandenburg, and the ceramics that she alone designed were produced on a large scale. Girls working on an assembly line painted the decor on the pots, cups, saucers and plates. Partially, the ceramic slurry was cast in molds, a modern production method far removed from the Bauhaus school that was at the time still pondering large-scale production.

Inspired by Kandinsky

Margarete Heymann's ceramic patterns were inspired by Vassily Kandinsky's circles, lines and empty surfaces, applied with a fine brush. Each piece is unique. From ashtray to teacup, they could all have the same pattern, allowing people to decorate their homes Heymann-style.

Striking disc-shaped, flat teapot and cup handles displayed in museums worldwide finally made her famous. "Most of the time, these tea sets were not used, they were so unwieldy," says Romana, adding that for her as a curator, this is a stroke of luck, because it means that the pieces are "exceptionally well preserved."

Plate with blue design (MAKK)

Hand-painted design on a plate

Margarete's cousin Marianne Heymann also enrolled at the Bauhaus art school in 1923. After completing the introductory course, she was admitted to the Bauhaus Workshop for Wood Sculpture and Stage Art in 1924, headed by Oskar Schlemmer.

Theater career

Marianne Heymann left the school in 1925 after it had moved to Dessau and the sculpture workshop was shut down. She returned to Cologne, where she worked at the city's opera house. In collaboration with Jupp Herzog, a puppeteer, Marianne Heymann carved over 100 hand puppets, three of which are on display at the Munich City museum.

Neither of the cousins was able to continue their work after the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Marianne fell out favor because of a swastika figurine and a Hitler jumping jack. Her cousin Margarete was forced to sell her ceramics business in Marwitz for much less than it was worth. She emigrated to Britain in 1936, where she started the Greta Pottery in London.

Thanks to the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus, the works of these two distinguished female German artists are finally being honored.

The exhibition "2 of 14. Two Cologne women at the Bauhaus" at the Museum of Applied Arts Cologne (MAKK) runs from April 12 to August 11.

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