Gradation study

Bauhaus Archive in Berlin

by gabemott on August 12, 2010 · 3 comments

The Bauhaus existed as in institution from 1919 to 1933. Josef Albers, the teacher with the longest tenure taught both the preliminary course which all students attending were required to take as well as his legendary color course. He inherited the preliminary course from Johannes Itten. Itten left in 1923 due apparently to differences in philosophy. His course included breathing techniques -“one lives and thinks the way he breathes.”

Richard Voigt 1929

Yesterday, I visited the Bauhaus Archive Museum in Berlin. I was particularly excited to see work that undoubtedly came out of Albers’ Color Course. The work at left, created in 1923 by Reingard Voigt, shows arrays with 5 steps between parents. These are done in watercolor and the quality of the steps appears consistent. All three of them exhibit terrific halations. Note the strong appearance of a gradiant within each of the 7 steps of color on all 3 sets.

The far right set, which steps from red to blue, is particularly consistent in the equality of shift per color swatch.  However, upon close examination, the pencil lines which create each box are still visible. In fact, the lines between colors are clearly delineated in all 3 of these sets. Each of the swatches is essentially contained within a box. This diminishes the pure relation of each color to the next.

By introducing lines between the swatches of color the halation effect becomes slightly misleading. I am surprised that greater effort to remove these lines was not taken. You may need to click on the image to enlarge so that you can see the level of detail which reveals the lines.

Things got more interesting for me as I took a look at the color wheel work by Katje Rose. On the left she shows the hues of the color wheel moving inwards towards black, shading in equal steps. On the right she is tinting the colors- they move from full chroma towards white in the middle.

Katja Rose, 1923

Admittedly, coming from Dick Nelson’s color course, I’m looking for a particular transgression. But, tell me if you don’t agree, I believe that transgression is apparent. If you’ve read or watched the video on the tri-hue method, you’re aware that a much better match for 3 primaries are CYAN, MAGENTA and YELLOW as opposed to the traditional fire engine red, cobalt blue and yellow. In the color wheel work at left, note what happens to right of the blue outer swatch. We get two segments in a row that seem to bleed into eachother. The blue at the top is not a pure cyan, and the two segments to the right are both a teal-green.

Further, the colors on opposing sides of the color wheel should be complementary colors. We can check this by staring at the images to produce an afterimage. The value and hue shift from the red to the orange should be the close to the value and hue shift of the two teal-greens.

While relatively successful in showing shading and tinting, the hues on the outside circles of each wheel left me a little confused.

The building itself was designed by Walter Gropius, the founder of the original Bauhaus.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Briggs November 9, 2010 at 3:55 pm

You would be quite right about the colour circles if they were based on the triadic ones by Itten or Klee, who share a lot of the blame for perpetuating the red-yellow-blue primaries down to this day. However these eight-hue circles are not structured around colour-mixing primaries, but illustrate the system of Ostwald, which emphasized the four psychological primaries (red, yellow, green and blue). They could be from classes by Kandinsky, who was one of Katje Rose’s teachers; Albers did not develop his colour course until after he left the Bauhaus (see John Gage’s Colour and Culture, Chapter 14).

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