The Lost Notebook is believed to be from a young Bauhaus student from the early 1920s. Picked up in an antique shop, this old document contains detailed notes from Itten’s Vorkurs, technical illustrations, and vivid thoughts of the student scribbled throughout the pages. The notes present the awe of the student towards Itten, the relationship shared between the class, tensions within the students, and the sometimes unnerving philosophies of the celebrated and revered teachers of the Staatliches Bauhaus.
Johannes Itten was a Swiss painter and important teacher at the Bauhaus in Weimar. A believer in mysticism, Itten developed comprehensive color theories which drew on both science and emotion, as evinced in his book The Art of Color (1961).
In 1916, while living in Vienna, he met Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus. Gropius invited the artist to become one of the Bauhaus’s earliest instructors alongside Lyonel Feininger in 1919. Itten left the Bauhaus in 1923, after consistently arguing with Gropius about the direction the school take.
Much of the early controversy around the Bauhaus centered on Johannes Itten, the first teacher of the school’s innovative, multidisciplinary preliminary course (Vorkurs). A follower of Mazdaznan, a religion with roots in Zoroastrianism, he shaved his head, dressed in robes and practiced strict vegetarianism. (Alma Mahler, a composer who, before Gropius, was married to the composer Gustav Mahler, and after to the writer Franz Werfel, expressed in her 1958 memoir her horror at the “obligatory diet of uncooked mush in garlic” that Itten insisted be served on campus and noted that she found “Bauhaus disciples recognizable at a distance, by the garlic smell.”)
Itten began classes with gymnastics and breathing exercises before moving on to elemental discussions of the nature of materials, the contrasts between them and aspects of color theory — all in order to reground students in new perceptions of the basics of making art and objects. He held classes at the Tempelherrenhaus, an 18th-century neo-Gothic folly, where he could scandalize the bourgeoisie of Weimar en plein air. Eventually seen as too spiritual and craft-oriented for the early Bauhaus, Itten was essentially forced to depart by Gropius. He was replaced in 1923 by Moholy-Nagy, who had a far more traditional pedagogical approach — though Itten’s influence on the curriculum persisted for several years.