Johannes Itten

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Johannes Itten

Johannes Itten (born November 11, 1888 in Wachseldorn , Canton of Bern , Switzerland ; † March 25, 1967 in Zurich ) was a Swiss painter , art theorist , art teacher and teaching master at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Itten is one of the Zurich School of Concrete . He developed a theory of colors and is considered the founder of the theory of color types .

Live and act

Hermann Stenner : Portrait of Johannes Itten, 1913
Johannes Itten as a teacher, 1954

Johannes Itten was the son of a teacher and mountain farmer. His father died when he was four years old, and his brother three years later. Until he was ten years old, he lived through a tough everyday farming life with a strict stepfather, after which he came to an uncle in Thun and from 1904 attended the teachers' seminar in Hofwil in the canton of Bern. There he got to know the progressive ideas of reform pedagogy through the young seminar director Ernst Schneider . From 1908, Itten taught for a short time as a teacher in a Bernese village before studying at the art academy in Geneva from 1909 to 1910. He was disappointed with the academic teaching. He went back to Bern to be trained as a secondary teacher in physics, mathematics and chemistry from 1910 to 1912. In the winter semester of 1912/1913 Itten studied again at the art academy in Geneva. He took a course there with Eugène Gilliard (1861–1921), where he came into contact with the geometric form elements and their contrasts.

Itten lived in Stuttgart from 1913 to 1916 . He became a student of Adolf Hölzel at the Stuttgart Academy . There he came into contact with Ida Kerkovius , Oskar Schlemmer , Willi Baumeister and Hermann Stenner , all of whom were members of the Hölzel group. In 1914 he was represented with a work at the Stuttgart exhibition of the Association of Art Friends in the countries on the Rhine in the so-called "Expressionist Hall" that Hölzel had put together. At the eponymous exhibition "Hölzel und seine Kreis", which brought together teachers and students for the first time and which took place in Freiburg im Breisgau in 1916 and in Frankfurt am Main in 1917, Itten came up with several works and a fragmentary title , in particular problems such as "form artist" and " Means of representation “focussing catalog text in appearance. Decades later, in 1963, he was still fascinated by "Adolf Hölzel and his circle", whereby Hölzel was regarded as the "center and resting point in the complicated symbolic form". With a representative selection of works he was included in the 1961 exhibition of the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart "Hölzel and his circle" organized by Wolfgang Venzmer .

For Itten, Adolf Hölzel was pioneering as he adopted his general theory of contrast and consequently also his theory of color contrast, as well as the practice of image analysis, experimenting with abstract collages (material montages), gymnastic exercises and so-called automatic drawing .

During the First World War, Itten moved to Vienna , where he founded his own art school to secure a livelihood. He assessed his artistic work and his educational work:

“Geometric and rhythmic forms, problems of proportions and expressive image composition were worked through. The tasks with textures and working out the subjective forms were new. In addition to teaching about polar contrasts, the exercises to relax and concentrate the students brought amazing results. The creative automatism was recognized by me as one of the most important factors of artistic creation. I myself worked on geometric-abstract pictures based on careful picture constructions. "

- Itten

In Vienna he met Walter Gropius , who appointed him in 1919 as one of the first teachers at the State Bauhaus in Weimar . Itten worked there from 1919 to 1923 as a teaching master ( master of form in several workshops) and shaped it through the preliminary course set up together with Gertrud Grunow . He was also a temporary lecturer in wall and glass painting.

After differences of opinion with Walter Gropius, Itten left the Bauhaus in 1923 to join the Mazdaznan temple community in Herrliberg near Zurich from 1923 to 1926 . There he founded the "Ontos Art School" for nature studies, composition, form and color theory and graphics as well as the "Ontos workshops" for hand weaving , Smyrna carpet weaving and tapestries .

Former Itten School, Wilmersdorf Konstanzer Straße 14

From 1926 to 1934 Itten ran his own school in Berlin, where Max Debus, Fred Forbát , Friedrich Köhn , Lucia Moholy-Nagy , Georg Muche , Julius Pap and the photographer Umbo taught in 1929 . From 1932 to 1938 he headed the higher technical school for textile surface art in Krefeld . He also worked as a guest lecturer at the Stettin School of Applied Arts (also: Werkschule für Gestaltende Arbeit) and, together with its director Gregor Rosenbauer, was the initiator of the artist group Das Neue Pommern, which existed from 1930 to 1933 . The shop and the interior fittings at the Erich Hamann chocolate factory in Berlin-Wilmersdorf were designed by him in 1928.

In 1934 the National Socialists initially closed Itten's Berlin school, but in Krefeld he was fired in 1937. He first went to the Netherlands. Shortly before his planned onward journey to the USA, he was offered a position at the Zurich School of Applied Arts and was its director from December 1938 to April 1954. From 1943 he headed the textile school and from 1952 to 1956 the Rietberg Museum . From August 1953, Itten taught the first 21 students at the newly founded Ulm School of Design .

Itten's teaching methods are shaped by his own experiences as an artistic gymnast, in that he applied the principles of training theory to the learning of skills, as he was convinced of the educational function of sport.

Johannes Itten and his wife Anneliese had two sons and a daughter, the prehistorian Marion Lichardus-Itten . She is President of the Johannes Itten Foundation. The foundation, which was established by Anneliese Itten in 1992, is based at the Kunstmuseum Bern and serves to preserve, research and publish Itten's work.

Itten's color theory

Color wheel according to Johannes Itten (1961)

Through his teaching activities and working with students at the Bauhaus, Johannes Itten became the founder of color type theory . In addition to his teaching activities as a painter at the Bauhaus Weimar, Itten also conducted research into the effects of colors. As a painter, he was interested in the interaction of form and color. Both the assignment of colors to shapes and the reverse behavior brought him further knowledge when working with his students, which was incorporated into his theory.

Johannes Itten set up a theory of colors (main work: Art of Color , 1961). The theory of the " seven color contrasts " originally developed by his teacher Adolf Hölzel and later worked out by Itten is taught at various arts and crafts colleges. An important preparatory work on the art of color (1961) was the preliminary course "Analyzes of old masters". It was published together with the “Color Ball in 12 Tones and 7 Light Levels” in the publication “Utopia” in Weimar in 1921.


Itten was one of the best-known followers of Mazdaznan , a mixed doctrine of Zoroastrian , Christian and Hindu elements founded by Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha'nish . Itten designed a quote as his contribution to the first Bauhaus portfolio:

"House of the White Man: Greetings and salvation to the hearts that are enlightened by the light of love and are not misled by hopes for heaven or by fear of hell."

- OZ Hanisch

In 2011, a planned street in Munich was to be named after him, but this was reversed in 2012 after protests about the Mazdaznan's proximity to National Socialism.

He found his final resting place in the Hönggerberg cemetery .

Fonts (selection)

  • Analyzes of old masters. In: Bruno Maria Adler (Ed.): Utopia. Documents of Reality . Utopia, Weimar 1921.
  • Art of color. Otto Maier. Ravensburg 1961. (reprints)
  • My preliminary course at the Bauhaus, design and form theory. Otto Maier, Ravensburg 1963 (reprints)
  • Fine arts elements. Study edition of the diary . EA Seemann, Leipzig 2002, ISBN 3-363-00777-9 .
  • Image analysis. Otto Maier, Ravensburg 1988. (Dutch: Beeldende kunst in beeld. Analyzes van vorm en inhoud. De Bilt 1990; French: L'étude des oeuvres d'art. De l'art antique à l'art modern. Paris 1990.)


  • Willy Rotzler: Johannes Itten works and writings. Orell Füssli, Zurich 1972, ISBN 3-280-00008-4 . (Catalog raisonné of all approx. 1200 works).
  • Johannes Itten - Between Expression and Construction. Ink, watercolors and paintings from the 1950s. Exhibition catalog Galerie Neher Essen. Texts by Marion Agthe and Tayfun Belgin. Essen 1989, ISBN 3-923806-45-0 .
  • RK Wick: Johannes Itten. Art education as experiential education? Ed. Adventure education, Lüneburg 1997, ISBN 3-89569-021-X .
  • Harald Küppers : Theory of harmony in colors. DuMont, Cologne 2000, ISBN 3-7701-2192-9 . On Johannes Itten p. 221 ff.
  • Harald Küppers: crash course on color theory. The historical development. DuMont, Cologne 2005, ISBN 3-8321-7640-3 . On Johannes Itten p. 61 ff.
  • Christoph Wagner: The Bauhaus and esotericism: Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee. Kerber, Bielefeld / Leipzig 2005, ISBN 3-938025-39-5 .
  • Eva Streit: The Itten School Berlin. History and documents of a private art school next to the Bauhaus. Gebr. Mann, Berlin 2015. ISBN 978-3-7861-2717-8 . (See also: Regensburg, Univ., Diss.).
  • Karin Thönennis: Johannes Itten. Life in form and color. WV - Weimar publishing company in the publishing house Römerweg GmbH, Wiesbaden 2016, ISBN 978-3-7374-0221-7 .

Films about Itten

Web links

Commons : Johannes Itten  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
to person and work
Works on the web

Individual evidence

  1. Rico Bandle: In higher spheres in Weltwoche No. 35.19 from page 56
  2. ^ Exhibition catalog Art Exhibition Stuttgart 1914 , Kgl. Art building, Schloßplatz, May to October, ed. from the Association of Art Friends in the States on the Rhine, Stuttgart 1914, p. 48, cat.-no. 413.
  3. ^ Exhibition catalog Hölzel and his circle 1916. Strecker and Schröder [Drucker], Stuttgart September 1916, pp. 15–19, illus. Pp. 42–45.
  4. Wolfgang Kermer (Ed.): "Dear Master Hölzel ..." (Willi Baumeister) - Students remember their teacher: on the 70th anniversary of Adolf Hölzel's death on October 17, 2004. With an afterword by the editor. State Academy of Fine Arts Stuttgart, Stuttgart 2004 (= WerkstattReihe , edited by Wolfgang Kermer; 11), ISBN 3-931485-67-6 , pp. 29–37, here p. 29.
  5. ^ Exhibition catalog Hölzel and his circle: Stuttgart's contribution to painting in the 20th century , opening exhibition of the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart in the rebuilt art building on Schloßplatz, September 8 to November 5, 1961, Cantz, Stuttgart / Bad-Cannstatt 1961, cat.-no . 193-216, illus. Pp. 139-143.
  6. ^ RK Wick: Johannes Itten. Art education as experiential education? Lüneburg 1997, p. 18 f.
  7. Johannes Itten: My preliminary course at the Bauhaus, design and form theory. Otto Maier, Ravensburg 1963, p. 9.
  8. ^ RK Wick: Johannes Itten. Art education as experiential education? Lüneburg 1997, p. 21.
  9. Lenke Haulisch: The painter Gyula Pap. In: Hubertus Gassner : interactions - Hungarian avant-garde in the Weimar Republic. [Neue Galerie, Kassel, November 9, 1986 - January 1, 1987; Museum Bochum, January 10, 1987 - February 15, 1987]. Jonas-Verlag, Marburg 1986, p. 286.
  10. cf. Johannes Itten and the higher technical school for textile surface art in Krefeld. On the textile design of the 1930s. Ed. Deutsches Textilmuseum Krefeld (additional exhibition cat. February - April 1992; contrib. Karin Thönissen. Helene Brutscheid, Ingrid Radewaldt, J. Itten).
  11. Waldemar Diedrich: Ask me about Pomerania. Gerhard Rautenberg, Leer 1987, p. 160.
  12. ^ Draft from 1928 Johannes Itten: Shop fittings for the Hamann chocolate factory, Brandenburgische Strasse 17, 10707 Berlin
  13. ^ Elisabeth Grossmann: Die Kunstgewerbeschule Zürich 1906–1978 In: Foundation and development. 1878-1978: 100 years of the Zurich School of Applied Arts. Zurich 1978, pages 79-194, here 148.
  14. ^ Swantje Scharenberg : Johannes Itten. An artistic gymnast characterizes the Bauhaus. In: Arnd Krüger , Bernd Wedemeyer-Kolwe (Hrsg.): Learn sports history from biographies. Festschrift for the 90th birthday of Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Henze. Lower Saxony Institute for Sports History , Hoya 2000, pp. 134–148.
  15. Archive link ( Memento from November 5, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  16. Johannes-Itten Foundation , accessed on September 6, 2019
  17. ^ Critique of the theory of colors by Johannes Itten / pictures in color
  18. ^ Source of the quote
  19. Julia Lenders: Racism allegations: City changes controversial street names. In: Abendzeitung München , July 12, 2012, accessed on July 1, 2018.