Beyond the Bauhaus: Walter Gropius in the UK and US

Display in UEA Archives Foyer, 8 July – 6 September 2019

DSCF37822019 marks the centenary of the founding of the unique and legendary Bauhaus school of art. Founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919 the Bauhaus then moved to Dessau and Berlin. In 1933 it was closed by its governing body under pressure from the Nazi regime, having been painted as a centre of communist intellectualism.

The school had three different architect-directors and was hugely influential in modern design, architecture & art. The tensions leading up to WWII meant that many of its former staff left Germany, taking with them their ideas and passion for design. The Bauhaus style spread around the world and became noteworthy in modern art, design and typography through subsequent decades.

UEA Archives holds the papers of Jack and Molly Pritchard, two visionary friends who helped and housed Walter Gropius from 1934-1937 in London. Jack Pritchard was a furniture designer with an entrepreneurial spirit. He and Molly believed in a liberal, simplistic and convenient way of living, free from the trappings of domesticity with time and outlets to develop one’s talents and social connections. They set about building the Lawn Road Flats (the Isokon Building). Opened in 1934, the flats became the home of Walter and Ise Gropius from 1934-1937.

Extracts from the archive shine a light on Gropius’s stay in the UK, as well his subsequent years in the US. His friendship with the Pritchards continued into his twilight years.

Today, The Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, founded in 1994, is a centre of research, teaching and experimental design.

Documents included in the Archive display:

Letters showing the English architect Maxwell Fry assisting Gropius in coming to the UK. Gropius was able to leave Nazi Germany in 1934, on the pretext of making a temporary visit to Italy for a film propaganda festival; he then fled to Britain and was met by Jack Pritchard at Victoria Station on 18 October 1934.

A letter from Jack Pritchard extending a hand to Walter Gropius and arranging his employment in the UK with architect Maxwell Fry (working on the Manchester flats project). Pritchard also offers Gropius a place to live at Lawn Road Flats. “I shall be very glad to put one of our flats at your disposal while you are in England.”

A photograph of the Pritchard family at the opening of The Lawn Road Flats, July 1934.

Letters showing Maxwell Fry and Jack Pritchard applying to the Ministry of Labour for Walter Gropius to work in the UK. The application outlines Gropius’s assistance with a special design project – ‘Ioskon 2’ in Manchester. Although all aspects of the scheme were covered, the flats were never built.

A photograph of an aluminium waste-paper basket designed by Gropius in 1935 and made in 1936 by Taylor-Law of Birmingham.

A photograph of Gropius’s prototype chair in solid wood. Designed for Isokon in 1936, five years before Eames’ and Saarinen’s iconic double-curved pieces, the A1 proved impossible to make. It was designed to be made from as few pieces of plywood as possible but greatly reinforced. Its complex curves on the back proved too much for manufacturer Venesta who concluded that it was so complicated it couldn’t be made in one piece. The design represented a radical departure from existing plywood moulding capabilities, and despite its failure, it marks a significant stage in the history of 20th century furniture.

A pamphlet on the Kendal Flats in Manchester (1937). A flat designed “to satisfy one’s need for relaxation and stimulating diversion. Living free from the friction caused by unpractical surroundings is essential for the attainment of the maximum amount of personal liberty and independence.”

A photograph of Impington Village College. During his three years in England Walter Gropius worked in partnership with Maxwell Fry and designed the Impington Village College in Cambridge, completed in 1939.

A letter where Gropius battles to pay his rent and asks if he can pay in German marks. After six months work he would have hoped not to be in this situation but after the cancellation of the Manchester flats scheme he had to look for new assignments.

PP.16.2.30.44.1

Dr Markova, Marcel Breuer, Ise and Walter Gropius. Photo by Edith Tudor-Hart, Pritchard Papers

Photograph of Ise and Walter at Lawn Road Flats’ 1st birthday, 1935.

Letter by Gropius while a tenant at Lawn Road Flats. He likes his flat but makes several suggestions as to how it may be altered. This includes structural changes and furniture for flat no. 15 in order to make it more suitable for socialising.

A chart by the Design and industries Association relating some of Walter Gropius’s work to contemporary events to give some measure to his pioneering achievements.

Gropius’s farewell speech, 9 March 1937 in which he praises the UK for holding back on short-term gains in the interests of more long lasting progress.

DSCF3787Seating arrangement, menu and guest list at Gropius’ farewell, 1937.

A photograph of Gropius saying farewell to László Moholy-Nagy at Waterloo station, before making his way to Southampton to board a ship to the US, 1937. Later that year Moholy-Nagy would move to Chicago and become Director of the New Bauhaus.

A press-cutting describing Gropius’s 1937 move to the US to take up the appointment of Professor of Architecture at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard; he became Chairman of the Department of Architecture in 1938 and Professor Emeritus in 1952. He was in partnership with Marcel Breuer (1937-40) and designed a number of buildings including his home in Lincoln, Mass.

Postcards and letters between the Pritchard and Gropius families as they kept in close touch.

Brochures and picture postcards of ‘Gropius House’, Lincoln Massachusetts. Built in 2937, the former family home is now open to the public as a property of Historic New England. The house exemplifies the introduction of the European modern movement to the US. It is a successful hybrid of Bauhaus principles, American mass-produced components and conveniences.

A letter from Julian Huxley (biologist) accepting his invitation to a dinner celebrating Walter Gropius’s conferment of the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture, 1956.

Guest list, seating arrangement and speakers for a dinner celebrating Gropius’s conferment of the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture, 1956.

Gropius’s speech on receiving the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture, 1956 wherein he remarks on friendships, his anxieties about Germany in 1937, and his apprehensions about moving to the US.

Photographs of the restored Lawn Road Flats. In 1997 a single flat, no. 22, was fully restored. This is similar to Gropius’s former flat no. 15. All 32 flats were fully refurbished by 2004 and sold. Nowadays one can visit the Isokon Gallery (the former garage) which is open on weekends http://www.isokongallery.co.uk

A memorial leaflet for Gropius (1883-1969) which includes a quote wherein he urges friends to celebrate.

A press-cutting on Ise Gropius and how she revitalised the Bauhaus / Gropius legacy in the years following his death. She played a key role in international exhibitions, in educating young people and in opening her home to the public. She reflects on the Bauhaus having been something which quite possibly might not have happened had thy known what was to follow, the arrival of Hitler, the war. She urges young people to live life to the full.

In summary, Jack Pritchard remarks on Walter Gropius’s influence:

“It is difficult to pinpoint any special influence Gropius had on me. … It was the total scene that he was concerned with. He made as it were, a synthesis of life’s work. He was concerned with all the various activities of the whole person in a community.”

Contact us: UEA Archives at University of East Anglia Library archives@uea.ac.uk Tel: +44 01603 593491

Bridget Gillies