Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack and the Bauhaus Movement

2019 marks the centenary anniversary of the opening of the Bauhaus Arts School in Berlin. Influenced by the 19th and early-20th-century artistic movements, the Bauhaus approach to teaching, and to the relationship between art, society, and technology, had a major impact around the world long after its closure under Nazi pressure in 1933.

Spinning top
Spinning top, wood, hand drawn and printed card (Pre-production model with hand written edits and annotations by Hirschfeld-Mack) Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack Collection, 1971.0009.00678. Reproduced with permission.

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack delivered the first dedicated course on colour at the Bauhaus (as an unofficial course) in the winter semester of 1922-23, drawing on his life long fascination with the dynamic relationship between colour, movement and music.

In his famous publication ‘The Bauhaus: An Introductory Survey’ Hirschfeld-Mack recalls how his own early interest in colour theory was inspired by the work of artists such as Paul Klee and Wasily Kandinsky. He further describes the early experiments he conducted from 1922 to 1923 in the blending of primary colours and light which led to the development of his ‘Reflected Light Composition’ and ‘Colour Light Plays’. These early Bauhaus experiments later found expression in a didactic spinning top that demonstrated the optical mixing of colour upon a set of coloured plates. A model of the spinning top was produced for the opening of the Bauhaus Archive in Darmstadt, Germany.

Hirschfeld-Mack remained at the Bauhaus until 1926 and developed the "Farbenlichtspiele" (colour-light play), a further demonstration of the application of colour theory. Colour light plays were developed out of Hirschfeld-Mack's experience in painting, and the need to turn the dynamic and rhythmic movements of colours into movement. Musical accompaniment heightened the experience. The plays were first performed at the Bauhaus Archive in Darmstadt in 1923, they were again performed in 1964 at the Archive when a film of the performance was made. The collection contains complete designs of the organ, as well as instructions for how to set up and use, and scores for the musical component.

UMA holds a collection of Hirschfeld-Mack's teaching, professional and some personal material, including the complete design of the colour light organ and lists of items required for the construction of the apparatus (in German), as well as correspondence with prominent figures in the Bauhaus movement.

To see the Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack (1971.0009) collection listing visit the UMA catalogue.

More on Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack and the Bauhaus on the UMA blog.

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