Herbert Bayer

Photograph: Herbert Bayer
Self-portrait of Herbert Bayer, photographic image of a photo montage, 1932
Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Inv.nr. 4244, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015

Herbert Bayer

jetzt wo ich dieses land verlassen habe, ist mir klar, dass die letzten 5 jahre in bezug auf meine arbeit beinahe verlorene jahre sind.

[Now it is clear to me, since leaving the country, that the last five years have been, in terms of my work, essentially years I lost. (ed. trans.)]

Herbert Bayer: diary entry upon arriving in New York in 1938

Bornon April 5, 1900 in Haag, Upper Austria
Diedon September 30 1985 in Montecito, California, USA
ExileUnited States of America

It was in 1938 that Herbert Bayer took the decision to leave Germany. The Austrian had arrived in the country in 1920 to work alongside Emanuel Margold at the Mathildenhöhe artist’s colony in Darmstadt. From there he journeyed to Weimar and studied at the Bauhaus, before moving on to Dessau. In 1928, he moved from a management position at the Workshop for Print and Advertising at the Dessau Bauhaus Institute, to a more practical role in Berlin. As a designer for the globally renowned Berlin firm Dorland Studios, he made his incisive advertising style into an internationally recognised brand. However, forced to emigrate from Germany, Bayer had to abandon everything he had built as a professional. His property and wealth was confiscated by the Nazi authorities who disapproved not only of the Jewish origins of Bayer’s wife - the American-born Bauhaus photographer Irene Bayer – but also of Bayer’s work itself, which did not correspond to the aesthetics of Nazi ideology. Hoping for a position in advert design at the New Bauhaus in Chicago, Bayer boarded the SS Bremen from the seaport city of Bremerhaven. His wife and child would eventually follow him in December 1938.

He was, however, greeted with bad news upon his arrival in New York on August 22, 1938: the New Bauhaus had gone into liquidation. Prior to emigrating, Bayer had attended English-language courses and, from his first day onwards, spoke only English in the USA. His first commissioned assignment in America was a design for the 1919 – 1928 Bauhaus exhibition in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Shortly after arriving in the US capital he met his future wife, Joella Haweis Levy, who initially provided him with new work contacts. Bayer spend the first 8 years of his American exile in New York although, as a lover of nature, the Austrian never felt at ease in the bustling American metropolis.

Selected works:
Komposition in Blau (Gouache, 1926)
Scheunenfenster (Gemälde, 1936)
Ausstellungsplakat Bauhaus 1919 – 1928, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1938)
Zeitschriftentitel Harper’s Bazaar (Foto-Grafik, 1940)
Konkav-Konvex (Gemälde, 1945)
World Geo-Graphic Atlas (1953)

Further reading:
Bauhausarchiv. Museum für Gestaltung (Hg.): Herbert Bayer. Kunst und Design in Amerika 1938 – 1985. Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag 1986
Rössler, Patrick / Chanzit, Gwen: Der einsame Großstädter. Herbert Bayer – Eine Kurzbiografie. Berlin: Vergangenheitsverlag 2014
Chanzit, Gwen F.: From Bauhaus to Aspen. Herbert Bayer and modernist design in America. Boulder: Johnson Books 2005
Bayer, Herbert: Das Werk des Künstlers in Europa und USA. Visuelle Kommunikation, Architektur, Malerei. Ravensburg: Otto Maier 1967