Johannes Itten (1888-1967) was a teacher, renowned for his expressionist art in the 20th century, whose pieces saw to explore the contrast of colour in his work and with his students.
Born in Südern-Linden, Switzerland on the 11th of November 1888, not much is known about Itten’s early life, only it was spent in his native Switzerland. Itten had likely been interested in art at a young age and studied to become a primary school teacher between 1904 and 1906 in Bern, which he would become until 1909. It was during this time Itten became intrigued with the idea of kindergarten by Friedrich Fröbel, where young children would learn through play, on which he based his teaching style.
Itten was keen to further his knowledge, in 1909 he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Geneva, but unimpressed by the teacher, he left after a year and moved back to Bern. Here he undertook a degree in natural science and mathematics at the University of Bern to become a secondary school teacher, studying under abstract painter Eugène Gilliard. Itten then left for Germany to study at the Stuttgart Academy and became a member of Adolf Hölzel’s master students’ studio.
It was not until 1916 that the first solo exhibition of Itten’s work was opened in the gallery Der Sturm in Berlin. After finally having his work displayed to the world, Itten devised and opened a private art school in Vienna.
Now with acclaim, Itten was appointed as one of the first masters at Bauhaus in Weimar by Walter Gropius. Bauhaus was a fine art school based in Germany and was renowned for teaching design and architecture. Bauhaus saw many of the most iconic artists of the 20th century as part of its faculty like Itten or as students. Here Itten taught a preliminary course, independent from the craft courses at Bauhaus with a notable student of his namely Josef Albers. Itten was a key contributor to the Mazdaznan movement – a religious cult, promoting it at Bauhaus.
Whilst at Bauhaus, Itten published the book The Art of Colour, he furthered the ideas of his old teacher Adolf Hölzel’s colour wheel, to include 12 colours as a “colour sphere”.
In 1923, Itten left Bauhaus after having internal differences with Gropius and joined the international Mazdaznan temple community in Herrliberg back in Switzerland. Three years later he moved back to Germany and formed a modern art school in Berlin, until 1934 when the school was closed by the Nazi party.
Despite many artists leaving Germany in the 1930s with the government suppressing people's expression, Itten would remain as he had a director’s position at Höhere Fachschule für Textile Flächenkunst until he was dismissed in 1938 and he moved to the Netherlands to become the director of Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) and the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Applied Arts) in Zurich. In 1943, he also became director of the Textilfachschule (Textiles School) in Zurich.
In 1955 he was invited by Max Bill to join the Ulm School of Design (HfG) to teach courses in colour.
Itten was one of the key contributors of colour during the 20th century. Like many artists including the mentioned Joseph Albers and Max Bill, many of Itten’s pieces involved the square.
To celebrate this artist, we have recreated the cover of Itten’s most renowned book The Art of Colour, using bespoke EcoBoard boxes.