Design history Johannes Itten

A master of color

Johannes Itten (11 November 1888 – 25 March 1967) was a Swiss expressionist painter, designer, teacher, writer, and theorist associated with the 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.

Johannes Itten • Education • 1966

Itten developed the foundation course that taught students the basics of material characteristics, composition, and color. He created the color wheel based on a primary triad of red, yellow, and blue, and includes 12 hues.

Color Wheel

He studied color in terms of both design and science, and his experiments with light waves explored color relationships and visual effects. He was the first to characterize color in terms of temperature. Itten believed that colors are forces, radiant energies that affect us positively or negatively whether we are aware of it or not.

Itten was a follower of Mazdaznan, a fire cult originating in the United States that was largely derived from Zoroastrianism. He observed a strict vegetarian diet and practiced meditation as a means to develop inner understanding and intuition, which was for him the principal source of artistic inspiration and practice. Itten’s mysticism and the reverence in which he was held by a group of the students, some of whom 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 László Moholy-Nagy in 1923.