Johannes Itten developed the Bauhaus preliminary course – a required course – in order to join one of the workshops. With Itten, the Mazdaznan cult also reached the Bauhaus. When, as a consequence, it came to differences, he left the Bauhaus and founded the Itten School in Berlin.

Portrait of Johannes Itten, photo: Paul Stockmar. Kunstmuseum Bern, Itten Foundation / © Itten Foundation, Kunstmuseum Berne.
Portrait of Johannes Itten, photo: Paul Stockmar. Kunstmuseum Bern, Itten Foundation / © Itten Foundation, Kunstmuseum Berne.

Between 1904 and 1906, Johannes Itten attended a teaching course in Hofwil near Bern. He worked as a primary school teacher from 1908 to 1909. That same year, he registered at the École des Beaux-Arts in Geneva and studied there until 1910. Until 1912, Itten completed another degree in natural science and mathematics at the University of Bern and received his diploma as a secondary school teacher. In the following two years, he studied at the Stuttgart Academy and became a member of Adolf Hölzel’s master students’ studio. In 1916, a first solo exhibition dedicated to Itten’s work was organised by Herwarth Walden at his gallery Der Sturm in Berlin. That same year, Itten relocated to Vienna and opened a private art school there.

The Encounter, author: Johannes Itten, 1916. Kunsthaus Zürich / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.
The Encounter, author: Johannes Itten, 1916. Kunsthaus Zürich / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

In October 1919, Itten was appointed as one of the first masters at the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar by Walter Gropius. Until 19221923, he was both director of the preliminary course which he had developed independently for the introductory semester and master of form of all the workshops except for the ceramic, bookbinding and printing workshops. Itten made a significant contribution to the Bauhaus by promoting the Mazdaznan cult, which spans religions and philosophies. After internal differences with Walter Gropius, Itten left the Bauhaus in March 1923.

 

Tower of Fire, author: Johannes Itten, 1920, reconstruction by Michael Siebenbrodt, FA. Glas Kraus, Weimar and Rainer Zöllner, 1995–1996. Klassik Stiftung Weimar / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.
Tower of Fire, author: Johannes Itten, 1920, reconstruction by Michael Siebenbrodt, FA. Glas Kraus, Weimar and Rainer Zöllner, 1995–1996. Klassik Stiftung Weimar / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Itten joined the international Mazdaznan temple community in Herrliberg on Lake Zurich. In 1926, he founded his own modern art school in Berlin. He was appointed to direct the newly established Höhere Fachschule für Textile Flächenkunst (advanced school of textile art) in Krefeld in 1932. In 1934, the Itten school in Berlin was closed by the NSDAP. In 1937, Itten’s work was displayed at the exhibition Entartete Kunst (degenerate art) in Munich. In the following year, he was dismissed from his post at the academy in Krefeld. Itten then moved to the Netherlands. In 1938, he became the director of the Kunstgewerbeschule (school of applied arts) and the Kunstgewerbemuseum (museum of applied arts) in Zurich. In 1943, he also became director of the Textilfachschule (textiles school) in Zurich. In 1949, he was commissioned to design the Rietberg Museum for non-European art in Zurich. He was invited to join the Ulm School of Design (HfG) by Max Bill in 1955. A number of large retrospectives of his work were held at, among others, at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1957 and at the Kunsthaus Zürich in 1964.

Colour Sphere in 7 Light Values and 12 Tones, author: Johannes Itten, in: Adler, Bruno: Utopia. Dokumente der Wirklichkeit, Weimar 1921. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.
Colour Sphere in 7 Light Values and 12 Tones, author: Johannes Itten, in: Adler, Bruno: Utopia. Dokumente der Wirklichkeit, Weimar 1921. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Literature:
Bothe, Rolf et al. (1994): Das frühe Bauhaus und Johannes Itten, Ostfildern-Ruit.
Salmen, Brigitte (2007): Bauhaus-Ideen − Um Itten, Feininger, Klee, Kandinsky: Vom Expressiven zum Konstruktiven, Murnau.
Wagner, Christoph (2005): Das Bauhaus und die Esoterik: Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Bielefeld.
Uthemann, Ernest W. (2003): Johannes Itten. Alles in Einem − alles im Sein, Ostfildern.