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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

Additional Resources

Breuer, Marcel, Alexander Von Vegesack, Mathias Remmele, and Barry Bergdoll. Marcel Breuer: Design and Architecture. Weil am Rhein: Vitra Design Museum, 2003.

Habegger, Jerryll, and Joseph H. Osman. Sourcebook of Modern Furniture, 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.

James-Chakraborty, Kathleen. Bauhaus Culture: From Weimar To The Cold War. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

Masello, David. Architecture Without Rules: The Houses of Marcel Breuer and Herbert Beckhard. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.

Rybczynski, Witold. Home: A Short History of an Idea. London: Penguin, 1987.

Sparke, Penny. The Modern Interior. London: Reaktion, 2008.

“Wassily Chair.” In Collection. The Museum of Modern Art Web site. http://www.moma.org/collection.

Wilk, Christopher. Marcel Breuer: Furniture and Interiors. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1990.

“Wassily” Chair

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

Marcel Breuer was trained, and later taught, at the Bauhaus in Germany.

A school and collective, the Bauhaus was founded in 1919 in Weimar by the architect Walter Gropius. It moved to Dessau in 1925 and, under new leadership, relocated once again in 1932, this time to Berlin. A year later it was closed down by the Nazi authorities. Despite its short life, the Bauhaus had long-lasting influence not just on Breuer personally, but also on the history of modern design.

The initial concept behind the Bauhaus was the unification of traditional fine arts and design through craft. By 1923, the focus of the school shifted to industry, and design for mass production became the guiding vision. At the time Breuer first designed the “Wassily” chair (named for friend and colleague Wassily Kandinsky), he was master of the Bauhaus carpentry workshop. Although the chair was produced and manufactured independent of this official post, it embodied many of the values of espoused by Bauhaus philosophy.

The chrome-plated “Wassily” chair was both useful and appealing to modern visual sensibilities. Breuer’s aesthetic was a minimalist one. He rejected ornamentation, instead focusing on functionality and quality. Based on the form of a traditional stuffed club chair, the “Wassily” is stripped down to its most essential elements—a tubular steel frame and stretched canvas supports for the sitter. Purportedly inspired by the tubular steel handlebars of his new bicycle, Breuer adopted the material for its strength, flexibility, and light weight. The regularity and simplicity of Breuer’s design made it both affordable and easy to reproduce in large quantities. For all these reasons, it found a home in domestic and institutional settings alike.

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