cf. K. Weber, ed., exhibition catalogue, Die Metall Werkstatt am Bauhaus, Berlin, Bauhaus-Archiv Museum für Gestaltung, 1992, p. 139 for images of two tea infusers of similar design, one in the collection of the Weimar Museum and the other known from a photograph taken by Lucia Moholy in 1924.
Designed at the Bauhaus by Marianne Brandt in 1924, the present tea infuser is an extremely rare - if not unique - hand-crafted precursor to her now-iconic MT 49 infuser, variations of which are now retained in the collections of the British Museum, London, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin. The present infuser was recently exhibited at the major retrospective, Bauhaus: Art as Life, 3 May - 12 August, Barbican Art Gallery, London.
Composed of a perfect sphere balanced upon a cruciform pedestal, this infuser is one of three developmental prototypes known to have existed, each offering successive interpretations towards the resolution of a perfected form. A near-identical silver tea infuser, however now featuring a modified hinge to the lid, is captured in a 1924 photograph taken at the Bauhaus by Lucia Moholy. The reverse of this photograph, which is now retained in the collection of the Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin, is annotated 2. Fassung - second version - prompting the interpretation that this image records a second, modified version of this initial form. Finally, in the collection of the Weimar Museum is what may well be the final variation of Brandt's original design. Again dating to 1924, and now executed in bronze, this example retains the spherical body of the first two examples, however introduces a solid, semi-circular ebony handle that clearly anticipates the geometric handles that were to be a defining feature of the MT 49 series of tea infusers. Viewed as sequential variations, these three examples serve to illustrate Brandt's design process as she sought to interpret variations of handle types and vessel shape to deliver a form that was truly guided by function. Although it is unlikely that Brandt would have been aware of the pioneering modernist teapots designed by Christopher Dresser towards the close of the nineteenth century, her own creations follow an intellectual and technical trajectory comparable to Dresser's own, towards the establishment of a perfected machine aesthetic.
Born Marianne Liebe in Chemnitz, Germany, in 1893 and married to the Norwegian painter Erik Brandt in 1919, Marianne Brandt originally studied painting and sculpture at the Hochschule fur Bildende Künst in Weimar, before joining the Weimar Bauhaus in 1924, remaining at the school through its transition to Dessau and earning her diploma from the Metal Workshop in 1929. Brandt was one of the most outstanding talents at the Bauhaus -- her revolutionary metal and glassware helped the Bauhaus to gain a leading role in the area of product design. When joining the Weimar school in 1924, women students were perfunctorily shuffled into weaving or ceramics classes, however, with the support of the Metal Workshop's director, Lázló Moholy-Nagy, Brandt was to be the first woman admitted into the prestigious male-dominated metal studio. Although initially not welcomed, she proved so adept that in 1928 she inherited Moholy-Nagy's directorship of the workshop. While metalwork remained her forte, Brandt is also known for her photographs and intricate photomontages, many of which she executed while at the Bauhaus. In 1929 she graduated from the Bauhaus to now join the Berlin architecture office of Walter Gropius, and subsequently became the head of metal design at the Ruppel firm in Gotha. Returning to Chemnitz in 1932, she concentrated on her painting. Post-war, Brandt was invited to teach at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste in Dresden, and at the Institut für Angewandte Künst, East Berlin.
Brandt's objects were inspired by elementary geometric forms -- the linchpins of Bauhaus design. The reduction to a limited yet refined vocabulary of parts was critical. Johannas Itten, the founding director of the Metal Workshop, had introduced a basic course on primary forms which required that objects be defined by the reductive forms of the cylinder, the sphere or the cone. Moholy-Nagy, who joined the Bauhaus and took over Itten's preliminary course and metal workshop in 1923, continued this curriculum. Its profound influence on Brandt, allied to her skill at transforming these principles into functional forms, is evident in all of her designs including the present tea infuser - a bold linear composition of sphere and rectangle -- executed during her first year at the Bauhaus.
Together with Moholy-Nagy, Walter Gropius, the school's founder and director (1919-1928), enacted a radical shift in the school's direction, shedding its Expressionist image and emphasis on craft in favor of the abstract geometric forms of Constructivism and De Stijl, and a machine aesthetic that was geared towards industry. In Moholy-Nagy's workshop, where the use of industrial materials such as glass, acrylic and lowly metals like alpaca was encouraged, there was now an effort to eradicate evidence of the maker and to instead create objects that appeared industrially produced, with serial production as the ultimate goal. This was supported by the widespread belief that the basic geometric shapes would, ultimately, be easier for mass-production and thus these forms spoke to a machine aesthetic. As a result, and as seen in the outwardly smooth, reflective surface of the present infuser's circular body which conceals the hand-hammered internal surfaces, these individually-produced Bauhaus objects increasingly sought to conceal evidence of the maker's hand, thus disguising the handcrafted nature of the object.
The Bauhauslers enjoyed a notable fascination with tea utensils, including pots, samovars and infusers. Numerous interpretations were created, to include Wolfgang Rösser and Friedrich Marby's teapot, a compelling juxtaposition of a sphere and a cylinder, and those conceived by Christian Dell and Josef Knau. Brandt herself experimented often with the tea pot/infuser form crafting various iterations. In the present precursor to the MT 49 we can perhaps glimpse into her thought process. When full, the sphere would be too heavy to comfortably grasp the small handle between two fingers. Embracing the modernist creed followed by the Bauhaus that the form must reflect the function, Brandt bisected the globe of the infuser horizontally thus reducing volume and weight and leading her to the iconic form of the MT 49. The present infuser, perhaps the very first of Brandt's investigations into the form, offers an intriguing insight into the processes that guided one of the period's most influential designers, and endures as an important expression of the parallel worlds of craft and industry that defined the Bauhaus.