10 November 1888; Südern-Linden, Switzerland
1967; Zürich, Switzerland
Johannes Itten was a Swiss expressionist painter, designer, teacher, writer and theorist associated with the Bauhaus (Staatliche Bauhaus) school. Together with German-American painter Lyonel Feininger and German sculptor Gerhard Marcks, under the direction of German architect Walter Gropius, Itten was part of the core of the Weimar Bauhaus.
He was heavily influenced by Adolf Hölzel and Franz Cižek, in Vienna using the work and textbook of Eugène Gilliard, an abstract painter, as a base. From Hölzel, Itten adopted a series of basic shapes (the line, the plane, the circle, the spiral) as a means from which to begin creation, and the use of gymnastic exercises to relax his students and prepare them for the experiences that were to occur in the class.
From 1919 to 1922, Itten taught at the Bauhaus, developing the innovative "preliminary course" which was to teach students the basics of material characteristics, composition, and color. In 1920 Itten invited Paul Klee and Georg Muche to join him at the Bauhaus. He also published a book, The Art of Color, which describes these ideas as a furthering of Adolf Hölzel's color wheel. Itten's so called "color sphere" went on to include 12 colors. In 1924, Itten established the “Ontos Weaving Workshops” near Zurich, with the help of Bauhaus weaver Gunta Stölzl.
Itten was a follower of Mazdaznan, a fire cult originating in the United States that was largely derived from Zoroastrianism. Itten's mysticism and the reverence in which he was held by a group of the students some of who converted to Mazdaznan (e.g. Georg Muche) created conflict with Walter Gropius who wanted to move the school in a direction that embraced mass production rather than solely individual artistic expression. The rift led to Itten's resignation from the Bauhaus and his prompt replacement by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in 1923. From 1926 to 1934 he had a small art and architecture school in Berlin, in which Ernst Neufert, the former chief-architect of Walter Gropius at the Bauhaus, taught as well from 1932 to 1934.
Itten's works exploring the use and composition of color resemble the square op art canvases of artists such as Josef Albers, Max Bill and Bridget Riley, and the expressionist works of Wassily Kandinsky.
Itten's work on color is also said to be an inspiration for seasonal color analysis. Itten had been the first to associate color palettes with four types of people, and had designated those types with the names of seasons. Shortly after his death, his designations gained popularity in the cosmetics industry with the publication of Color Me A Season. Cosmetologists today continue to use seasonal color analysis, a tribute to the early work by Itten.