Oskar Schlemmer. Bauhaus Stairway. 1932

Oskar Schlemmer Bauhaus Stairway 1932

  • The Museum of Modern Art, Floor 2, Bauhaus staircase

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.

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.
Oil on canvas
63 7/8 x 45" (162.3 x 114.3 cm)
Gift of Philip Johnson
Object number
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos.

If you notice an error, please contact us at digital@moma.org.

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

Provenance research is a work in progress, and is frequently updated with new information. If you have any questions or information to provide about the listed works, please email provenance@moma.org or write to:

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

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at firenze@scalarchives.com. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA's Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.