November 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
Peter Behrens (Figure 1) was born 14 April 1868 in Hamburg and died in Berlin 27 February 1940. He was a founder of modern objective industrial architecture and modern industrial design. But before he became an architect he was a painter in his youth and Art Nouveau designer of decorative and graphic art. He inherited considerable wealth so was able to afford to study between the years 1886 until 1891 at art schools in Karlsruhe, Dusseldorf and Munich. Year after his studies he became one of the founders of a new wave formed in Munich called Munich Secession. From 1890 he worked as a painter and graphic artist in Munich.
In 1893 Behrens is one of the founding members of Munich Secession. Behrens was the founder of the Vereinigten Werkstatten (United Workshops) in 1897. As stated by Schmutzler (1962, p. 205) “his earliest works in Jugendstil are ornament drawings like the delicate sketch of butterflies alighting on lily pads framed by rushes (Figure 2), and in this design his affinity with Japanese art is obvious.”
The Jugendstil movement is described in (Art Nouveau, 1975, p. 83). Typical of a Jugendstil artists of Munich, which had become the center of the movement, was the tendency to restrict every form to a two-dimensional plane, reducing even the human figure to nothing but an ornament design.
In Behrens’s woodcuts the illustration is surrounded the border. The theme of the border is always connected with the illustration in the middle. For example in his woodcut The Kiss (Figure 3) the hair of two women are twisted together and transformed into the frame.
As is stated by (Art Nouveau, 1975, p. 83) “the transformation of objects is characteristic of Art Nouveau and another instance is found in Peter Behrens’s title page for O.J. Bierdaums’s Den Bunte Vogel (Figure 4) of 1899 in which the tail of a peacock changes into a border for the type on the page. The Art Nouveau artist was able to do this without destroying the unity of the composition, by rendering typographical border and illustration with the same strong linear rhythms.”
He produced handmade utilitarian objects. In 1898 he collaborated on designing the Berlin journal “Pan”. Which was his first experience of designing furniture. In 1899 Behrens joined Darmstadt colony, where he designed his own house complete with all its furniture. He created porcelain tableware (Figure 5) which pattern on the plates was similar to the one on the dining room ceiling. Also the front door (Figure 6) is decorated in the style of the whole house.
His feeling for simple geometrical shapes with basic lines, circles, triangles and squares was repetitively appearing in his later works. That is why he became the lead person of a reformative group at the Dusseldorf Kunstgewerbeschule where he was teaching from 1901-1902. The next year he became a director at this school until 1907. He was also a founding member of a group called Werkbung. This group was a progressive in their ideas of developing German artistic work and later they wanted to raise the esthetical quality of manufactured products in Germany.
As is stated by Vincent (1997, p. 30) “in 1907 Paul Jordan, AEG’s managing director, invited Behrens to become chief designer for the Berlin-based electric company. He started working on advertising posters for this big German company. Also he was working on designs of daily used electrical products. Which design was mostly copying the artistic pieces by their shape and the artistic historical decoration. Behrens was there to chance it to a modern product.” He started by designing a new logo for an AEG (Figure 7), all new graphic identity for a company and he also designed the shapes of a new selected products. He achieved as a first German and also European citizen to create first complex corporate identity. That was the first step by connecting art and industry how we know it today.
Behrens was also designing factories for AEG. The most famous one is in Berlin called The AEG high-tension factory (Figure 8), which was built in 1910. The design of the factory is based on rectangular and circular forms. The big windows provided daylight to the whole factory and the clear façade is designed for the purpose of its use. This factory is still used and there are no indications that this would change in next decades.
Behrens became the first industrial designer and he influenced his coworkers, which became lately well know. The names are Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and probably the most know Le Corbusier.
In the year 1002 Peter Behrens designed a Behrens typeface. He had to work well with type in the advertisements for AEG. According to James-Chakraborty (2000, p. 123) Behrens designed the lettering “Dem Deutschen Volk” (Figure 9) on the entrance portal of Reichstag in Berlin in the year 1916 as a populist move during the World War I.
As is written by Killen (2006, p. 24) Peter Behrens noted: “Our age has been seized by a haste that leaves no time for absorption in details. When we race at high speed through the metropolis, we can no longer see the details of buildings. Just as the images of the city seen from an express train passing by at high speed can only have an impact through their silhouettes, individual buildings can no longer speak for themselves. Such a way of seeing has already become a habit for us.”
No author credited (1975) Art Nouveau. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.
James-Chakraborty, K. (2000) German Architecture for a Mass Audience. eBrary [Online]. Available at: http://site.ebrary.com/lib/pcollege/Doc?id=10070460 (Accessed: 21 November 2010).
Killen, A. (2006) Berlin Electropolis: Shock, Nerves, and German Modernity. eBrary [Online]. Available at: http://site.ebrary.com/lib/pcollege/Doc?id=10088443 (Accessed: 21 November 2010).
Schmutzler, R. (1962) Art Nouveau. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc..
Vincent, C. P. (1997) Historical Dictionary of Germany’s Weimar Republic. eBrary [Online]. Available at: http://site.ebrary.com/lib/pcollege/Doc?id=10004892 (Accessed: 21 November 2010).
NNDB (2010) Portrait of Peter Behrens. [Online] Available at: http://www.nndb.com/people/144/000100841/ (Accessed: 21 November 2010).
Schmutzler, R. (1962) Art Nouveau. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., p.295, illus.
The Museum of Modern Art (1898) The Kiss. Peter Behrens [Online] Available at: http://moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A438&page_number=2&template_id=1&sort_order=1 (Accessed: 21 November 2010).
No author credited (1975) Art Nouveau New York: The Museum of Modern Art, p. 36, illus.
The Museum of Modern Art (1898) Plate. Peter Behrens [Online] Available at: http://moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A438&page_number=5&template_id=1&sort_order=1 (Accessed: 21 November 2010).
Cathlinargb (2009) Peter Behrens’ Front Door. Flickr [Online]. Available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cargb/3744261235/in/photostream/ (Accessed: 21 November 2010).
Nathalle (2007) Deutsche Werkbund Peter Behrens 1907 08 Gesamkultur. Flickr [Online]. Available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nathalle/538225674/in/photostream/ (Accessed: 21 November 2010).
The New York Times Company (2010) The AEG Turbine Hall 1928 [Online]. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/arts/19iht-turbine.html?_r=1&ref=arts&pagewanted=all (Accessed: 21 November 2010).
Končal, P. (2010) Lettering on the Reichstag entrance.