The conceptualization and design of our Metropolis fine jewelry collection, that combines sterling silver, anodized titanium and gemstones, has required a significant research effort. Considering that we have a soft spot for the Bauhaus art school, we could not ignore its footprint in Fritz Lang’s cult movie Metropolis.
I.- Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar
Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar, commonly known simply as Bauhaus, was an art school in Germany. Founded by architect Walter Gropius with a a pragmatic approach to integrating theory and praxis, the main objective of the Bauhaus was to merge traditional arts and crafts with modern technologies; this is, the creation of a ‘total’ work of art in which all artistic disciplines would eventually be brought together.
Bauhaus is the transliteration for ‘building house’, but according to the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, it stands for ‘an eagerness to experiment, openness, creativity, a close link to industrial practice and inter-nationality’. In the words of Walter Gropius:
The ultimate goal of all art is the building! The ornamentation of the building was once the main purpose of the visual arts, and they were considered indispensable parts of the great building. Today, they exist in complacent isolation, from which they can only be salvaged by the purposeful and cooperative endeavours of all artisans. Architects, painters and sculptors must learn a new way of seeing and understanding the composite character of the building, both as a totality and in terms of its parts. Their work will then re-imbue itself with the spirit of architecture, which it lost in salon art.
The art schools of old were incapable of producing this unity – and how could they, for art may not be taught. They must return to the workshop. This world of mere drawing and painting of draughtsmen and applied artists must at long last become a world that builds. When a young person who senses within himself a love for creative endeavour begins his career, as in the past, by learning a trade, the unproductive “artist” will no longer be condemned to the imperfect practice of art because his skill is now preserved in craftsmanship, where he may achieve excellence.
Architects, sculptors, painters – we all must return to craftsmanship! For there is no such thing as “art by profession”. There is no essential difference between the artist and the artisan. The artist is an exalted artisan. Merciful heaven, in rare moments of illumination beyond man’s will, may allow art to blossom from the work of his hand, but the foundations of proficiency are indispensable to every artist. This is the original source of creative design.
So let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen, free of the divisive class pretensions that endeavoured to raise a prideful barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let us strive for, conceive and create the new building of the future that will unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting, and which will one day rise heavenwards from the million hands of craftsmen as a clear symbol of a new belief to come.
The school existed in three German cities: Weimar (1919 – 1925), Dessau (1925 – 1932) and Berlin (1932 – 1933), under three different architect-directors: Walter Gropius from 1919 to 1928, Hannes Meyer from 1928 to 1930 and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe from 1930 until 1933, when the school was closed by its own leadership under pressure from the Nazi regime. The Bauhaus had a major impact on art and architecture trends in Western Europe, the United States, Canada and Israel in the decades following its demise, as many of the artists involved fled from, or were exiled by, the Nazi regime.
The Bauhaus arose due to the confluence of a series of historical events of extraordinary magnitude: Germany’s defeat in World War I, the fall of the German monarchy and the abolition of censorship under the new, liberal Weimar Republic allowed an upsurge of radical experimentation in all the arts, previously suppressed by the old regime.
19th century English designer William Morris, who had argued that art should meet the needs of society and that there should be no distinction between form and function, was one of the main sources of inspiration for the Bauhaus. However, the most important influence on Bauhaus was modernism, a cultural movement originated in the 1880s, and which had already made its presence felt in Germany before the World War. Therefore, the design innovations commonly associated with the Bauhaus—the totally simplified forms, the rationality and functionality, and the idea that mass-production was reconcilable with the individual artistic spirit—were already partly developed in Germany before the Bauhaus was founded.
The Bauhaus style, also known as the International Style, was marked by the absence of ornamentation and by harmony between the function of an object or a building and its design. The holistic approach to the field of design characteristic of the Bauhaus had a dramatic influence upon subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography.
II.- Metropolis, Fritz Lang and the influence of the Bauhaus art school
Margret Kentgens-Craig points out the existing relationship between Metropolis, Fritz Land and the Bauhaus school in her book ‘The Bauhaus and America: First Contacts, 1919-1936’.
Film’s ability to influence the rapprochement between architects and modernism and to incorporate real precedents and designs into its images is well illustrated by Fritz Langs’ Metropolis. Lang, whose father was an architect and who had briefly attended engineering courses, infused this epic with his vision of a futuristic city. The graphic quality and stylistic formal language of Metropolis’ utopian urban architecture point to various influences. Lang apparently had been inspired by the New York skyline on his 1924 trip to America: the skyline was reinterpreted as an urban backdrop of densely built blocks and burgeoning skyscrapers. Certain sketches recall early modern buildings or projects in Berlin. One depicts a skyscraper with a rounded glass curtain wall facade. If somewhat stiff and clumsy, it does bear a resemblance to Mies van der Rohe’s 1922 project for a polygonal skyscraper in steel and glass. Another building in Metropolis strongly recalls the formal facade pattern of another Mies project, the office building in concrete (1922-1923), with its alternative horizontal bands of glass and opaque material and its visible, evenly spaced columns.
Because it incorporates the formal and technological principles of avant-garde European architecture, Metropolis can be regarded as a stylistic bridge between Lang’s expressionist film Die Niebelungen and the four subsequent films he made before his inmigration, all, as he states somewhat ironically, in “fully developed Bauhaus decor”. Lotte Eisner also finds a direct relationship between Metropolis and the Bauhaus, noting the formal geometry of the film’s mise-en-scène, a strategy related to the New Sobriety movement (Neu Sachlichkeit).
Kentgens-Craig, Margret. The Bauhaus and America: First Contacts, 1919-1936. First MIT Press Paperback Edition, 2001. p. 43-44.
The fact is that the Bauhaus selected some of the best talent from each trade to become Master Instructors. Not only did they teach the student, they motivated and inspired.
As Michael Organ and René Clémenti-Bilinsky note, from Spring 1923 Dada Expressionist artist László Moholy-Nagy was one of the lecturers at the Bauhaus and one of the students was Dutch ex-Dadaist Paul Citroen, who was responsible for a series of photographic montages entitled ‘Metropolis’ which appeared around this time, and may have influenced Fritz Lang (architecture student and associate of various Bauhaus artists).
In fact, Lang, Citroen and Moholy-Nagy have variously been identified as the artist responsible for a montage which featured in French publicity for the film upon its release at the end of 1927. John Whillett pointed out in his The Weimar Years – A Culture Cut Short (London, 1984) that this Metropolis montage is similar to the composite city-urban photo-montage constructed for the 1929 production of The Merchant of Berlin. Citroen is most likely responsible for this latter work, which was formerly attributed to Moholy-Nagy, who also worked on the production. It is of a similar style to his ‘Metropolis’ collage of 1923, reproduced below.
The Metropolis montage associated with Fritz Lang’s film (see below) appeared unattributed in the 1927 French trade newspaper Cine-Miroir and the 1928 La Petit Illustration special Metropolis issue. This montage has recently been identified as coming from the hand of the artist and set designer Boris Konstantinovitch Bilinsky (1900-1948).
A poster version of the montage, with signature, was illustrated in an anonymous article entitled ‘Plakate für deutsche Filme in Frankreich’ [Posters for German Films in France], published in the Berlin Zeitbilder during January 1928.
Boris Bilinsky was commissioned by the French distribution company L’Alliance Cinématographique Européenne (ACE) to design posters and publicity material for the French release of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in 1927. In order to learn more about this gorgeous piece of art I recommend you this blog post written by Adrian Curry: ‘Movie Poster of the Week: “Metropolis” and the posters of Boris Bilinsky’.