The biographer of British designer and writer William Morris and the Romantic poet Lord Byron takes on the visionary architect behind the influential German school of art and design, examining his complicated life as well as the urges that drove Euro-American modernism as a whole.
Biographies of artists are an unwieldy yet wildly rewarding genre, with authors heroically flexing their muscles to do justice to both the personal histories and artworks of their subjects. Fiona MacCarthy’s thick and scrupulously researched Walter Gropius: Visionary Founder of the Bauhaus is no exception ... MacCarthy’s middle chapters more than do justice to Gropius’s visionary approach to architecture as a complete, totalizing art ... MacCarthy regales readers with wonderful details ... MacCarthy also peppers her tale with the first grumbles of discontent, possibly peer envy, among Bauhaus circles ... Throughout, MacCarthy presents a mostly wholesome image of Gropius as a consummate, apolitical artist, but she does make note of some of his flaws ... Walter Gropius is a luminous, vigorous study of a prodigiously gifted man driven by singular passion.
This is not the man portrayed in Tom Wolfe’s 1981 book From Bauhaus to Our House, which pilloried Gropius as a bore, concerned only with the elitist project of modern architecture. MacCarthy transforms him from a dull institutionalist...into a stylistic rebel who lived and loved in an exuberant community of artist outcasts that would be scattered across the world after Weimar Germany became the Third Reich. Whereas critics of the Bauhaus have seen it as the harbinger of giant faceless office towers and superhighways slicing through cities, MacCarthy presents the school as a fount of idealism ... Most of all, MacCarthy shows that Gropius’s true legacy was the talent he nurtured in others—I.M. Pei, Philip Johnson, Paul Klee, Marcel Breuer, and Wassily Kandinsky, to name but a few ... If, as has been said, the Bauhaus was the ultimate art school, Gropius was the definitive dean.
...[a] meticulously researched, balanced and brilliantly written biography ... For MacCarthy, answering the question is as much about telling the story of Gropius as it is about sifting through the layers of noise that have built up around his name over the years. MacCarthy’s poetic archeology restores Gropius to his rightful place—carefully sifting through the complex topography of an anything-but-simple life ... MacCarthy refuses the often ill-researched reductionist characterisations of Gropius as the arrogant, dour modernist. Instead, she passionately weaves a gripping and powerful narrative deserving of a wide audience while also making for essential reading for anyone studying architecture and design.