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Gallery Text

Bauhaus artists and designers sought to revolutionize society by radically reshaping the environments in which people lived. The objects in this case, products of the school’s metal, pottery, and carpentry workshops, reflect innovative approaches to the design of everyday household items—from the minimalist rethinking of the ornate tea glasses of eastern Europe to the transformation of chess pieces into pure geometric form. The design of decorative art objects at the Bauhaus was as strongly informed by modern artistic theories as the paintings and sculpture produced there. The table lamp, for example, made in the metal workshop when the constructivist artist László Moholy-Nagy served as its director, explores the circular form in three dimensions: as a disk, cylinder, and sphere. Now considered an icon of Bauhaus design, in 1924 the lamp failed to achieve the Bauhaus goal of creating objects well suited for industrial production, due to its high fabrication cost. Relatively few Bauhaus objects were mass-produced, in fact, despite the school’s efforts to establish partnerships with industry. The objects’ extreme modernity and frequently high prices made them less appealing to the general public and relatively uncommon outside the homes of artists and intellectuals and the Bauhaus buildings.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Wilhelm Wagenfeld, German (Bremen, Germany 1900 - 1990 Stuttgart, Germany)
Coffee and Tea Service: 5-Piece Set
Work Type
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Brass with mercury silvered interiors and ebony fixtures
teapot: 14.2 x 25.5 x 12.2 cm (5 9/16 x 10 1/16 x 4 13/16 in.)
hot water pitcher: 22.7 x 18.5 x 9 cm (8 15/16 x 7 5/16 x 3 9/16 in.)
sugar bowl: 7.4 x 11.8 x 8.8 cm (2 15/16 x 4 5/8 x 3 7/16 in.)
cream pitcher: 12.3 x 11.1 x 5.8 cm (4 13/16 x 4 3/8 x 2 5/16 in.)
tray: 1.5 x 38.5 x 25.9 cm (9/16 x 15 3/16 x 10 3/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF analysis was undertaken on the tray (BR52.22), tea pot (BR52.23), hot water pitcher (BR52.24), sugar bowl (BR52.25) and cream pitcher (BR52.26). Both sides of the tray were found to have high levels of copper and zinc with trace lead, corresponding to a brass. The outside of the tea pot, hot water pitcher, sugar bowl and cream pitcher were composed of a very similar alloy. The inside of the lids of the tea pot and hot water pitcher had high levels of silver and mercury, indicating the use of mercury silvering to create a white metal surface. Some mercury was detected in a gray area on the side of the cream pitcher and reddish areas of the cream pitcher had a higher copper to zinc ratio than golden areas. The objects should be described as brass with mercury silvered interiors. Kathy Eremin, January 2013

Bauhaus Masters, gift; to Hanna Lindemann, gift; to the Busch-Reisinger Museum
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Hanna Lindemann
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
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Exhibition History

From Werkbund to Bauhaus: Art and Design in Germany 1900-1934, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 05/12/1980 - 04/26/1980

32Q: 1520 Art in Germany Between the Wars (Interwar and Bauhaus), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 12/10/2018

The Bauhaus and Harvard, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 02/08/2019 - 07/28/2019

Subjects and Contexts

The Bauhaus

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