In 1936, Nikolaus Pevsner asserted at the Royal Society of Arts in London that the Weimar Republic had produced two great modern schools of art: Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus and Bruno Paul’s Vereinigte Staatsschulen für freie und angewandte Kunst (Unified State Schools for Fine and Applied Art) in Berlin. Pevsner was outspoken in commending the ‘atmosphere of youth, conquest, thrill’ that pervaded the Bauhaus in emulation of the passionate and revolutionary spirit of its founder. But he was troubled by the shortcomings of its programme. By contrast, Pevsner praised the Vereinigte Staatsschulen for restoring the essential ‘balance between painting and sculpture on the one hand, and handicraft and design on the other’ (Fig. 1). Unlike the Bauhaus, Pevsner concluded, the Vereinigte Staatsschulen ‘represented a success in almost every respect’. Yet, despite its importance to the dissemination of the Modern Movement, the Vereinigte Staatsschulen has been largely forgotten in the English-speaking world, while the Bauhaus has been long been regarded as the epitome of twentieth-century modernism, and, particularly in popular culture, even of the very concept of modernity. Nevertheless the interwoven stories of the Vereinigte Staatsschulen and the Bauhaus, and of their directors, serve to illuminate the complexity of the unwritten history of the Modern Movement.
The Vereinigte Staatsschulen and the Bauhaus were, as Pevsner noted, parallel developments. Both emerged from the artistic reform movements that characterized the final years of the German Empire, and which found their culmination in the Deutscher Werkbund. The faculty of Vereinigte Staatsschulen sustained the unbroken history of its progenitor institutions, reflecting a broad and inclusive Modern Movement that echoed the often-contentious composition of the Werkbund itself. The Bauhaus faculty sought, ultimately unsuccessfully, to effect a clear and decisive break from a similar historical context. Notwithstanding its brilliant achievements, the Bauhaus ultimately represents but a single, exclusive branch of the history of the Modern Movement. The Vereinigte Staatsschulen reflects the broader currents that engendered twentieth-century modernism.