The Early Years
Marianne Brandt, born Liebe, (1893–1983) grew up in Chemnitz, Germany. Her upper middle class family was harmonious and she enjoyed a privileged life.
When she was 18 she traveled to Weimar to study art, highly unusual for a woman of her time, leading to a few years at the College of Fine Arts.
There she met Norwegian artist, Erik Brandt who she married in 1919. In 1923 she enrolled in the metal workshop at the Bauhaus school in Weimer under theorist and designer László Moholy-Nagy. Two years later, her husband returned to Norway alone and they later divorced.
A Time of Proliferation
Marianne had a lot to keep her distracted while at the Bauhaus. She quickly established herself as a gifted student, turning out iconic designs of metal household objects in almost manic fashion. By 1926 Marianne was appointed deputy head of the metal workshop, by 1928 she succeeded Nagy to become the workshopʼs director. In this capacity she procured some of Bauhausʼs most lucrative industrial design contracts which helped to fund the school.
While at the Bauhaus, she also began experimenting with photography, especially photomontages, still-life compositions and self portraits that evidenced her status as a New Woman; strong and independent, defiant to social ideas about sexual freedom and fashion for women.
In spite of her successes at the school, she left in 1929 to join Walter Gropius (May 18, 1883 – July 5, 1969) in Berlin. There she designed modular furniture for mass production while simultaneously working on the interior design of a housing project in Karlsruhe-Dammerstock.
Shortly thereafter she was lured to Gotha to work as Head of Metal Design at the firm of Ruppelwerk. Unfortunately, in 1932 Marianne lost her job and returned to her hometown of Chemnitz.
The Third Reich made finding steady work for people such as Marianne who were considered “decadent” almost impossible. Though she resisted, it was only by finally joining the Reichskulturkammer in 1939 that she was able to buy art supplies that would have otherwise been forbidden to her.
Still, with all her talent she was never able to establish herself as a self-employed industrial designer.
1949 saw the beginning of her teaching career that started with a position at the Fine Arts School in Dresden. She also taught at the Applied Arts Institute in East Berlin (1951-1954). Her students adored her with a fierce loyalty most teachers never enjoy.
By the time she died at the age of 89 in Saxony, she had left behind a legacy of shining talent and enormous creativity as evidenced by her proficiency as a designer, painter, sculptor, teacher, photographer and New Woman. In many ways she was truly renaissance and I wonder how much more her talents could have been cultivated in a Germany of today instead of the fiercely oppressive government of the Nazi regime.