Bauhaus colour theory

Updated July 19, 2017

The Bauhaus school supported innovation in the arts and architecture from 1919 to 1933. The colour theories that were developed during that time were new methods of associating emotions or an aura with different palettes, as well as a way of grouping colours of different tones, shades or hues.


The Bauhaus became an institution for some of the most prominent architects, designers and artists of their time when it opened in 1919 in Weimar, Germany. Founded by architect Walter Gropius, the school is characterised as having "geometric design, craftsmanship and a respect for materials." The school moved to Dessau in 1923 and made a final move to Berlin in 1932.


Johannes Itten was one of the many teachers who taught at the Bauhaus in the early 1900s. It was where he came to develop his theories on the colour wheel. His book, "The Art of Colour," documents his approach to creating harmony with colour. It was not only about using colours that fit on the spectrum, but about how to use and view color's cultural associations.


In determining his new aspects for colour, Itten created a 12-hue colour wheel that forms contrasting elements to help visualise his theories of how shades and hues can come together. Not only did he show how colours could be grouped based on their pigments, Itten was also interested in how they would affect a person psychologically. He taught theories on this while at the Bauhaus. This included religious, philosophic, and psychological associations recognised in specific colours.


For teachers at the Bauhaus, colour theory became more subjective and exploratory to an individual's preferences and sensations. Part of the instruction was to have students develop their own palettes of subjective colours, which comprised a large range of choices. The question of "how" someone sees was explored in art, architecture and all other aspects of design.


One of the most recognised reference materials for colour instruction is the colour wheel that Itten produced at the Bauhaus. Not only did this influence future use of colour through the 20th and into the 21st century, but the research and material produced during that time is a relevant tool for interior designers, architects, artists and all other creative individuals today.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Abbey is a freelance writer from Portland, OR. She has been writing since 2008 focusing on architecture, design and culture. Receiving her college degree in architecture, Abbey has contributed to the "Architect's Newspaper West Edition" and other art/architecture publications.