A reproduction Wassily chair from the 1980’s turned up on Craigslist the other day. Before anyone else could pounce on the deal we snapped it up. It’s a beauty. An amalgam of white leather and steel tubing, the original was a chair ahead of its time. Despite its sleek lines and modern looks, Marcel Breuer designed the Wassily chair while working in the Bauhaus studio in 1925-26.
Eighteen-year old Breuer began his studies at Bauhaus in the city of Weimar, Germany in 1920. It later moved to Dessau and then Berlin. Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus as an arts and crafts school — now regarded as the most influential modernist school in the 20th century. Sadly, the forward-looking school closed its doors in 1933 after the Nazis assumed power.
Gropius envisioned a confluence of art, society and technology in this school. Masters encouraged students to design highly functional, aesthetically pleasing goods that could be mass produced.
Members of the Bauhaus believed everyday items could be artistic as well as useful. Their work, intended for the populace at affordable prices, had the potential to elevate citizens and society. Envisioning a better tomorrow, they merged art and industry.
Heavy hitters from the art world such as Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee taught at the Bauhaus. Students trained in workshops under the supervision of masters. The carpentry, ceramics, metalwork, wall painting and weaving workshops defined the Bauhaus.
Marianne Brant’s tea infuser and strainer, for example, reimagines a teapot by applying abstract geometrical forms. It’s pleasing to the eye, and offers a functional, dripless container. Only 3-inches tall, it was designed to hold concentrated tea that could be poured into a cup of hot water. This handmade beauty was never mass produced.
Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s Bauhaus lamp looks contemporary yet, like Brandt’s tea infuser, was designed in 1924. Geometric shapes define it: a round base, cylindrical shaft and spherical shade. The Bauhaus lamp was handmade. Today it is produced by Techno-lumen of Bremen, Germany.
Graduating the Bauhaus in 1924, Breuer returned in 1925 to become master of the carpentry workshop. Just as significant, that year Breuer bought his first bicycle: light and strong, with handlebars made of tubular steel. He began experimenting with chair designs.
Mass production made me interested in polished metal, in shiny and impeccable lines in space, as new components of our interiors. I considered such polished and curved lines not only symbolic of our modern technology but actually to be technology.” — Marcel Breuer Source
With its minimal design, essential lines and planes, and taut canvas the Model B3 Chair proved simple and affordable. In the second half of the 20th century it collected awards from the Museum of Modern Art and was recognized as a “Piece of Art” in (West) Germany in 1982.
Originally known as the Model B3 Chair, its later name of Wassily Chair resulted from an encounter Breuer had with Wassily Kandinsky, artist and Bauhaus master. Kandinsky saw the prototype, admired it, and Breuer made the next one for Kandinsky’s personal quarters. In fact, Breuer furnished the entire Bauhaus with his chairs.
The name change, from the romantic Model B3 Chair to the Wassily Chair, occurred in the 1960s when an Italian manufacturer rereleased it with leather instead of canvas fabric and incorporated the anecdote involving Kandinsky into a name change. Knoll now manufactures it, offering it in leather and cow hide.
I’ve learned that the Gropius-designed Bauhaus building in Dessau, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, offers a bed-and-breakfast experience. You can “Spend the night like a Bauhausler” and walk in the steps of modernist masters.
Meanwhile, our Wassily Chair repro sits in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. Doesn’t it look inviting?
Ann Marie and David