In Focus

Herbert Bayer: "Artistic Polymath"

On February 16th, Herbert Bayer's "Chromatic Circles" comes to auction. Take a closer look at this stunning tapestry and its place in Bayer's legendary body of work.

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Published on
February 09, 2023
Lot 66, Herbert Bayer, Chromatic Circles
Lot 66 | Herbert Bayer, Chromatic Circles

Within Herbert Bayer’s meticulously documented oeuvre, his tapestries are something of an enigma. Scholars don’t know much about where or how they were produced, which is unusual given the emphasis Bayer placed on record-keeping. Lisa Ballinger, curator at the Aspen Institute, calls these objects “the least researched body of his work.”

Most discussions of the multidisciplinary artist revolve around his time in the Bauhaus school of Germany. During his time there, which began in 1921 when the artist was just 21 years old, Bayer made a name for himself as a gifted artist and typographist. It was here that he developed his now infamous “universal”, a sans-serif typeface that eventually became synonymous with the movement. When Bayer left in 1928, he carried with him Bauhaus’ deepest ideological convictions, most importantly the belief that all art forms could be and should be integrated under a single ideology. This attitude would inform the remainder of the artist’s career, which saw him weave between mediums with ease and enthusiasm. It is for this reason that he is often dubbed something of a renaissance man, an “artistic polymath.”

Herbert Bayer's tapestry pictured with other items offered in the sale, including a set of 4 Mies Van Der Rohe for Knoll chairs and the Bodil Kjær Executive Desk
Herbert Bayer's tapestry pictured with other items offered in the sale, including a set of 4 Mies Van Der Rohe for Knoll chairs (lot 192) and the Bodil Kjær Executive Desk (lot 193)

Across media, Bayer preferred his art to be free of narrative. Likely influenced by his time studying mural painting with Wassily Kandinsky, who lauded abstraction as “a vehicle for direct expression” and color as “a means of exerting direct influence upon the soul”, Bayer seemed perpetually preoccupied with chromatic interplay.

This is certainly evident in the work he created as part of his tapestry practice, which for the most part was confined to the 1960s. The tapestry featured in February 16th’s Fashion, Art, and Design is a beautiful example of Bayer’s ability to continue his explorations of color and geometry via textiles. Chromatic Circles dominates whatever space it inhabits, not only because of its massive size but also because of its imposing aesthetic presence. Encapsulated in a sphere of brilliant blue, circles of pink, orange, purple, and black circumnavigate each other, overlapping and connecting to form new shapes and colors. Despite its lack of symmetry, there is a powerful sense of order and balance present, providing us a window into the artist’s exploration of mathematical phenomena. With the simplest geometric forms possible, Bayer managed to create something supremely bold and beautifully complex.

Chromatic Circles, detail
Chromatic Circles, detail

Pre-bidding for Fashion, Art, and Design is available now. Live bidding begins February 16th at 11:00 AM.  

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