Oskar Schlemmer. Bauhaus Stairway. 1932
Oskar Schlemmer

Bauhaus Stairway

1932
Not on view
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
63 7/8 x 45" (162.3 x 114.3 cm)
Credit
Gift of Philip Johnson
Object number
597.1942
Department
Painting and Sculpture

Bauhaus Stairway depicts the Bauhaus, a school founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius, famous for its visionary integration of technology, art, and design. Although Schlemmer made this painting three years after he left his teaching position at the Bauhaus, the works gridded structure, streamlined modular bodies and predominant palette of primary colors capture the schools vibrant design spirit. The carefully choreographed arrangement of the figures and the man en pointe at the top of the stairs reflects Schlemmers role as the creator of many important dance and theatrical productions at the Bauhaus. Schlemmer painted this work as Hitler assumed power, shortly before the Nazis closed the Bauhaus for good. He was among many artists persecuted by the Nazis, whose work they deemed "degenerate" and often destroyed.

Gallery label from 2008

Additional text

Visiting Stuttgart in the spring of 1933, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the founding director of The Museum of Modern Art, discovered that an exhibition by Schlemmer had closed after a brutal and intimidating review in a Nazi paper. Barr responded by cabling Philip Johnson, already a frequent donor to The Museum of Modern Art, to ask him to acquire Bauhaus Stairway as an eventual gift. Barr acted, he later wrote, "partly to spite the Nazis just after they had closed [Schlemmer's] exhibition."

Schlemmer painted Bauhaus Stairway three years after leaving his teaching post at the Bauhaus, the famous school of modern art, architecture, and design. The work's gridded structure celebrates Bauhaus design principles, and its upward movement, including the man en pointe at top left (Schlemmer had worked in dance), evokes the school's former optimism. Encouraging our involvement in this mood are the figures facing the same way we do, some of them partly cut off by the frame, as if they were in our space. Their simplified, almost modular shapes giving them an Everyman quality, they step up into the picture and then on up the stair.

Schlemmer's several staircase scenes of the early 1930s may reflect a desire to transcend a threatening period in German history. He exhibited this particular work soon after hearing that the Nazis had shut down the Bauhaus.

Bauhaus Stairway. 1932

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 118

Provenance Research Project
This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.
The artist, Breslau, Germany. Until 1933
Philip Johnson, New York. Purchased in Stuttgart, March 1933 - 1942 (on extended loan to MoMA 1933-1942)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Philip Johnson, December 1942

If you have any questions or information to provide about the listed works, please e-mail provenance@moma.org or write to:

Provenance Research Project
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019

Pictured above: Vasily Kandinsky. Panel for Edwin R. Campbell No. 2 (detail). 1914. Oil on canvas, 64 1/8 x 48 3/8" (162.6 x 122.7 cm). Nelson A. Rockefeller Fund (by exchange). © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Image permissions

In order to effectively service requests for images, The Museum of Modern Art entrusts the licensing of images of works of art in its collections to the agencies Scala Archives and Art Resource. As MoMA’s representatives, these agencies supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum's imaging studios.

All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA's collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053; requests@artres.com; artres.com. Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50012 Bagno a Ripoli/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax 39 055 641124; firenze@scalarchives.com; scalarchives.com.

Requests for permission to reprint text from MoMA publications should be addressed to text_permissions@moma.org.

Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource