Women of the Bauhaus: Lucia Moholy (1894-1989)

Lucia Moholy, photograph by László Moholy-Nagy.
Courtesy picture alliance-Liszt Collection

Lucia Schulz was born in 1894 in Prague. As a young woman, she studied philosophy and art history at the University of Prague, but then turned her focus on publishing, working as an editor in German publishing houses. In 1920 she met a Hungarian artist, László Moholy-Nagy in Berlin whom she married a year later.

While her husband took over the preliminary course from Josef Albers at the Bauhaus in 1923, Ms. Moholy became her husband’s darkroom technician and collaborator, exploring new techniques such as photogram, the process of exposing light-sensitive paper with objects laid upon it. She used a new focus, referred to as the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), which employed a straightforward frontality. She took many photographs of the school exterior and interior and social events which were extensively used to advertise the school in brochures, posters and magazine articles.

Tea pot by Marianne Brandt. Photo by Lucia Moholy.
Courtesy picture alliance-dpa

In 1925, Malerei, Fotographie, Film (Painting, Photography, Film) experimentation done by the couple was published. Although co-written by the couple, the book appeared only under Laszlo’s name. After separating from her husband, Lucia Moholy’s work was included in Film and Foto in 1929. She taught photography at a private school directed by Johannes Itten, who had left the Bauhaus.

Advertising material for the Bauhaus. Photos by Lucia Moholy.
Courtesy picture alliance-akg-images

In an unfortunate turn of events, Ms. Moholy fled Berlin following the arrest of an acquaintance and left without collecting her collection of glass negatives. These ended up in the hands of Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus director, who continued to publish materials on the school using her photographs without giving her credit. In 1938, 50 of her photographs were shown in the exhibit, Bauhaus 1919–1928, and the accompanying catalog at the Museum of Modern Art without her knowledge or consent and were wrongly attributed to László Moholy-Nagy. Ms. Moholy’s many efforts to retrieve her original artwork were not successful.

Settling in London, Ms. Moholy published an English-language book, A Hundred Years of Photography (1839-1939). She opened a photography studio where she took portraits of royalty and academic personalities. Her technical expertise in the medium allowed her to find work at the London Science Museum Library, where she reproduced documents for the Association of Special Libraries and Information Bureaus. After World War II, she served as photographer for UNESCO in the Near and Middle East. In 1959 she moved to Switzerland where she returned to her writing.

“Lucia Moholy: 100 Years” exhibit, San Sebastian, Spain
Courtesy picture alliance-akg-images

It was not until decades after she left the Bauhaus that Ms. Moholy’s persistence paid off when 230 of the 560 of her negatives were returned to her. In 1972 she published Moholy-Nagy Notes, in which she wrote about  the close collaboration with her former husband and her attempts to regain ownership over her works.

By Eva Santorini, German Embassy

Recommended reading: “What I Could Lose:” The Fate of Lucia Moholy

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