The model for this chair is the traditional overstuffed club chair, but all that remains is its mere outline, an elegant composition traced in gleaming steel. The canvas seat, back, and arms seem to float in space; the body of the sitter does not touch the steel framework. Breuer spoke of the chair as his “most extreme work … the least artistic, the most logical, the least ‘cozy’ and the most mechanical.” It was also his most influential piece of design, taking furniture in a radical new direction. Breuer had designed an earlier version in 1925, while teaching at the Bauhaus, the influential German school of modern art, architecture, and design in Dessau, and within a year designers everywhere were experimenting with tubular steel. Breuer claimed to have drawn inspiration from the tubular-steel handlebars of his bicycle, which were strong, lightweight, and mass-produced. He reasoned that if the material could be bent into handlebars, it could be bent into forms for furniture.
The chair was dubbed the “Wassily” after the painter Vasily (or Wassily) Kandinsky, Breuer’s friend and fellow Bauhaus instructor, who had praised the design when it was first produced. This example was given to MoMA by another Bauhaus colleague, Herbert Bayer, and was featured in the Museum’s landmark exhibition Machine Art in 1934.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)