Herbert Bayer (Apr 5, 1900 – Sept 30, 1985)

Herbert Bayer was born on 5th April of 1900 in Linz, Austria. He worked in all fields of media like painting, photography, typography, sculpture, architecture, and interior design, exhibition design, and graphic design. He served in Austrian army for one year (1917 – 1918). At the age of 19 he became apprentice under the architect and designer Georg Schmidthammer in Linz. During that time he produced his first typographic works. In 1921, he joined architect Emanuel Margold, in Darmstadt, as an assistant architect. In the same year he enrolled as a student in Bauhaus, Weimar. Bauhaus was a German art school which opened in 1919 and functioned till 1933. Bayer was quite naïve in arts when he joined Bauhaus. He studied Mural painting and typo

graphy there. After completion of his four year program, the Bauhaus moved to Dessau and he was appointed to direct the new printing and advertising workshop, called “Druck und Reklame”, to open. Same year he created ‘Universal’, a geometrical san serif font with all lower case letters. He taught advertising, layout and typography till 1928 and left Bauhaus to focus on his own art work.

In 1929 Bayer moved to Berlin and started working as a freelance commercial artist. He joined Vogue as an art director. When vogue closed he was invited to join ‘Studio Dorland’ as an artist director. He also devoted his time to painting, photography and exhibition design. In 1929, he had his first exhibition at Galerie Povolotski, Paris and at Kunstlerbund Mäerz, Linz.

Bayer always considered himself a painter first, because he never stopped painting. No matter what professional turns his life was taking he continued painting. His paintings are far less popular then his design work. He started painting in his early youth with water colors. Even though he didn’t have formal training his paintings were pleasing, they had careful rendering of light and shadow. His subjects used to be natural landscapes and its rustic architecture. When he joined Bauhaus his color palette got influenced by German Expressionism and he started using more robust and colorful characters. Bayer learned a lot at Kandinsky’s wall painting workshop. Kandinsky used blue a lot in his work and once wrote, “the power of profound meaning is found in blue.”

Herbert Bayer had so much influence of Kandinsky’s work that he also started using blue, but he used a particular blue, and was so pronounced in his work that the term ‘Bayer Blue’ came into Bayer terminology. Bayer also once stated that from the beginning, blue was his favorite color.

Photography became integral part of his design and He hired a photographer to assist him. He used his knowledge of experimental photography and created unusual photographs. In 1932, he created photomontages of a surrealist nature, such as ‘Hand Act’, ‘Metropolitian’.

Bayer believed that architects and planner need to coordinate on entire fleet of specialist including, but not limited to structural and mechanical engineers, acoustical experts, real estate experts, demographers, and plastic artists. His architecture ideas were conceived long back but still are fresh and exciting. Bayer did many projects on Environmental Design while he was in Aspen. He designed outdoor structures, created posters to advertise new skiing opportunities, designed promotional literature for the town. He tried to give the town its own identity. He built almost 60feet tall sculpture called “Articulated wall” in the Mexico City, Colorado for 1968 Olympics.

“I am so much concerned with the individual work of art, as with the total shape and content of the human scene.” – Herbert Bayer

During his stay in Berlin, Bayer participated in a number of exhibitions, almost one per year. His first exhibition was “Pressa” exhibition at Cologne, organized by El Lissitzky. With this experience he discovered a new freedom of techniques. He followed his learning from Lissitzky and tried to systemize this new approach into an orderly program. In 1930, Walter Gropius invited him to collaborate on the design for Deutscher Werkbund section of the “Exposition de la Société des Artistes Décorrateurs” at the Grand Palais, Paris. Later Bayer also contributed in planning and installation of the exhibits for the Berthhold Type Foundry (1930); the German Cork Industry (1931), travelling exhibitions and a municipal exhibition in Berlin (1935) and a gas and water exhibition in Leipzig (1937). When he left Europe he had a lot of experience as an exhibition designer.

Bayer immigrated to USA in 1938 and stayed in New York City till 1946. In the same year he arranged an exhibition “Bauhaus 1919 – 1928” at New York Museum of Modern Art. He handled this exhibition almost alone. Bayer’s unexpected ideas of the exhibition design surprised public and the critics. This led him to organize other exhibitions like, “Road to Victory”, in 1942; “Airways to Peace”, (1943); etc. He also worked as a commercial artist, exhibition designer, painter, sculptor, and maker of environments in New York. He became chief art director of the John Wanamaker Department Store in 1942, the J.W. Thompson Advertising Agency in 1944, and Dorland International in 1945. He consistently followed concepts and goals of Bauhaus more than anyone else. He had ties with his Bauhaus associates but always worked independently.

Bayer in a statement of 1979 concurred: “the Bauhaus implanted in me such a sense of duty, you see, not just to go and paint for my own pleasure, but to devote myself to dealing with the design problems of our time.”

He moved to Aspen, Colorado, in 1946 and became art and design consultant for the development of Aspen and architect for the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. Also, in the beginning of 1946 he was design consultant to the Container Corporation of America (CCA) in Chicago. Later, became chairman of its department of design from 1956 to 1965. In 1966, he worked at Atlantic Richfield Company as a design consultant. While in America most of his time spent was in Aspen, sometimes he commuted to Chicago for CCA work. In 1975 Bayer decided to leave Aspen due to his declining health condition and moved to Montecito, California, near Santa Barbara, where he eventually died. Here he divided his time between Atlantic Richfield responsibilities, other environmental projects, and painting.

He became a visiting artist at Jerusalem Foundation in 1977 and Artist in Residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1978.

In 1980, Bayer asserted, “the artist of our time cannot afford to be entirely self indulgent in his work, but has responsibilities in the shaping of our visual world.”

Herbert Bayer received numerous awards and honors, including honorary doctorate of the “Technische Hochschule Graz”, the “Österreichisches Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst: the “Ambassador’s Award for Excellence” in London and the “Kulturpreis für Fotografie” in Cologne.


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  1. Chazit, Gwen F. From Bauhaus to Aspen: Herbert Bayer and modernist design in America. Colorado: Johnson Books, 2005).
  2. Monica Bohm-Duchen, “Grove Art Online: Bayer, Herbert,” Oxford Art Online (2007).
  3. Unknown, “Biography: Herbert Bayer,” Art Directory.
  4. “Herbert Bayer: a study of Bauhaus typography,” http://type.nu/bayer/