I decided to find out more about Marianne Brandt’s geometrical metal teapot (above), which I used to illustrate a recent post. It looks “functional” (i.e. plain) but I wondered whether it worked as a teapot. Whether it does or not, it has become an icon of the Bauhaus (where it was made) and, by extension, of a rational approach to manufacturing, food preparation and domestic life.
I said that it was aggressively original and it may be seen as a picture of a teapot, or the realisation in three dimensions of El Lissitzky’s Constructivist Red Wedge poster (below), rather than a teapot that you can actually make tea in.
Brandt produced it when she was a student in the metal workshop at the Weimar Bauhaus, where she studied under Moholy-Nagy, whose appointment in 1923 marked a change from the Bauhaus’s original craft ideology to an ideology of mass production. But Brandt’s first version, now in the British Museum (BM), is still visibly a craft object, with hammer marks on its curved surface. Judy Rudoe of the BM says that the Bauhaus had little experience of designing for industry at this stage.
Brandt was born in Chemnitz in 1893 and she trained as a painter before joining the Bauhaus, where it was unusual for a woman to study metalwork. She was Moholy-Nagy’s star pupil and after he left she took over from him as metalwork leader. She later worked for Gropius in private practice and then for the Ruppel metal goods factory in Gotha, a curious appointment because Ruppel were old fashioned, but Brandt rationalised their product range and introduced new, radical designs (below). Like Moholy-Nagy she later turned to photography. She remained in the east and her later career was in art education, compromising with the Nazis and the Communists, both of whom had contempt for the Bauhaus.
Because Brandt became a decisive and influential industrial designer after her experiments at the Bauhaus, scholarly authors like Brockhage and Lindner are said to pay little attention to her early work, but their publishers still put the iconic teapot on the cover of their monograph.