Marianne Brandt was born Marianne Liebe in 1893 in the German city of Chemnitz. Although she pursued painting early in life and attended a private art school and the Grand Ducal College of Art in Weimar from 1912-1917, where she produced many works in the Expressionists style and also studied sculpture, the artist is best known for her sleek and elegant industrial designs.
In 1919 she married the Norwegian painter Erik Brandt and traveled with him to Norway and France. The couple returned to Weimar in 1921 and would divorce 14 years later. In 1923, Ms. Brandt enrolled at the Bauhaus and studied primarily with the Hungarian modernist theorist and designer László Moholy-Nagy in the metal workshop which had accepted only men until that point. She earned a position as his assistant and it was there that she excelled at industrial design: her teapots, (including her iconic “MT 49” teapot of 1924, shown below), lighting and lamps, coffee sets and ashtrays are closely identified with her and were mass produced. Her interest in photography flourished during these years and she produced playful self-portraits and images that incorporated intriguing reflections on spherical objects.
“[At] first, I was not accepted with pleasure – there was no place for a woman in a metal workshop, they felt. They admitted this to me later on and meanwhile expressed their displeasure by giving me all sorts of dull, dreary work.” – from Letter to the Younger Generation, 1970, from Bauhaus Women by Ulrike Muller
For a year in 1926 the couple moved to Paris, where Ms. Brandt produced photo collages, combining images with text and focusing on the “New Woman” as a recurring theme of newly-liberated urban women. (These pieces were part of the exhibit “Tempo, Tempo! The Bauhaus photo montages of Marianne Brandt,” organized by Elizabeth Otto and which appeared at the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum and the International Center of Photography in New York from 2005 to 2006). She returned to the Bauhaus and served as Acting Director of the Metal Workshop from 1928-1929 after Mr. Moholy-Nagy’s departure. She designed the first lighting fixtures for the school while it was in Dessau and took on technical experiments in lighting. Ms. Brandt negotiated contracts with industry partners such as Schwintzer & Gräff (Berlin) and Körting & Mathiesen (Leipzig) for lighting fixtures and metal workshop designs for the Bauhaus. These contracts provided necessary funding for the school, and the metalwork workshop became instrumental in developing designs geared toward mass production.
In 1929 Ms. Brandt received her diploma and participated in the “Film und Foto” exhibit in Stuttgart. She joined Walter Gropius in his architectural studio in Berlin, where she focused on furniture production and interior design projects. From 1930-1933, she was the director of metal design at the Ruppel Metal Goods factory. It was difficult to find work during the years of financial depression and during the Nazi regime. In 1939 she became a member of the Reichskulturkammer which allowed her access to art supplies.
After the end of World War II, Ms. Brandt returned to Chemnitz to help rebuild her family’s house which had been badly destroyed. From 1949-1951 she was a lecturer in the metal ceramics and wood department of the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts and worked at the Academy of Applied Art in Berlin from 1951-1954. Ms. Brandt spent her final years as a painter, weaver, and sculptor.
During her years at the Bauhaus, Marianne Brandt proved herself adept in an environment in which women were often relegated to “women’s art” such as weaving. She pursued her passion for design and never succumbed to the belief that women were limited to creating two-dimensional artwork. She certainly would have been surprised to hear the winning auction price of $361,000 for her 1927 MT-49 teapot at a 2007 auction. Photographs of the artist and examples of her photo montages can be viewed at https://www.icp.org/exhibitions/tempo-tempo-the-bauhaus-photomontages-of-marianne-brandt
By Eva Santorini, German Embassy