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7 / Domestic Life

“Wassily” Chair
“Wassily” Chair
Artist / Origin Marcel Breuer (American, born Hungary, 1902–81). Manufactured by Standard Möbel, Germany
Region: Europe
Date 1927–28
Material Chrome-plated tubular steel, canvas upholstery
Medium: Other
Dimensions H: 28 ¼ in. (71.8 cm.); W: 30 ¾ in. (78.1 cm.); D: 28 in. (71.1 cm.)
Location The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Credit Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Herbert Bayer/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

Alexandra Griffith WintonDesign Historian

“Wassily” Chair

» Marcel Breuer (American, born Hungary, 1902–81). Manufactured by Standard Möbel, Germany

expert perspective

The Bauhaus began in Germany in 1924 to create objects that are purely functional, objects that are beautiful and yet functional, and crucially, mass-producible—these were the underlying goals of the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus was in a sense a kind of a good design movement. It was an attempt to strip away what they believed was unnecessary, to strip away sort of false formalities. It was this very conscious attempt to create this new society that was getting rid of all those bourgeois values and getting rid of these material things connected with the nineteenth-century house with its formal dining room and its library, and these divided spaces. Spaces became multi-purpose. And furniture became metal. And it became very lightweight. And furniture became multi-purpose. You had chairs that were designed specifically to be used in almost any type of space.

One of the most famous objects that came out of that era is Marcel Breuer’s “Wassily” chair. It was inspired by this extruded steel framework of his bicycle. He was riding his bicycle one day and he thought, This is a marvelous material. It’s strong, it’s flexible, it’s lightweight—we should make furniture using this material. So completely abandoning the traditional wood, he was able to create this chair, which is essentially as dematerialized as a chair can be while still being a chair, while still having some structure and some presence. It’s chrome-plated steel with these two very slender runners connected by a leather seat and a leather back. It is stripped down and as pared down as it can possibly be. This object, which is now a part of our cultural consciousness, was born of really quite radical ideas about living, about technology, about something as basic and eternal as the chair.” 


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