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The Bauhaus Movement: Characteristics and History

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Arts
Wordcount: 5484 words Published: 3rd May 2018

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From the expression “Bauhaus” we still feel something fresh. In every day speech it is associated with the beginning of the modernism and it is invoking in us association with basic forms (square, triangle and circle), basic colours (red, yellow and blue), furniture from the metal, white architecture and functionalism. History of the small school that Bauhaus was, is a mixture of facts and interpretation from different sources. But Bauhaus was the phoenix that every generation understands differently.

For us, Bauhaus is a symbol of rationalization and modernity of lifestyle, where we cannot find any unnecessary comfort. At the same time, it is an enemy for the conservative culture.

We can say that Bauhaus has been connected with left wing all the time. For Nazi Germany Bauhaus was “culturally Bolshevik”, “international” and “Jewish”. But Nazis used the modern devices of the Bauhaus very often. Almost all members of the Bauhaus emigrated and lot of Jewish relatives were killed. In German Democratic republic, where the main school (Weimar and Dessau) was established, Bauhaus was denied till sixties. After that, they started to integrate it to their cultural heritage. On other hand, for the Federal Republic of Germany, Bauhaus was the main part of modernism.

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A Graphic design of Bauhaus acknowledges this historical concept and invites readers to take a fresh look at the facts about typography and advertising and printing workshop at the Bauhaus school. It is for the first time in ninety years after establishment of the most successful art academy of twentieth century, the Graphic design of Bauhaus, which brings together works of graphic design from three different schools of Bauhaus located in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin. The team has brought the numerous treasures of the collections of the masters such as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Joost Schmidt and Herbert Bayer.

We wish that the readers will enjoy A Graphic design of Bauhaus and they will focus and concentrate on the creativity of the Bauhaus.

Historical evolution

When the Germany was established in 1871 it experienced change from the agrarian state into industrial. The reform artists of secession from Darmstadt, Munich and Dresden brought to Germany movement of Arts and Crafts from England, which was actually an opposition to industrialization. The new school that was set up in that period was characterised by different workshops, the most famous schools were Art school in Munich and Art and craft school in Weimar set up by Henry van de Velde in 1908. In 1907 Deutcher Werkbund (Union of German art), which conciliated between capitalism and culture was set up in Munich.

In 1910, Walter Gropius became a member of Deutcher Werkbund, where he organized an exhibition of industrial works and during that time he gained a lot of experience for leading Bauhaus school.

During the war, Gropius was very good leader and during that four-year period he was very quickly promoted to embarkation officer. After the war, in 1919, he continued his discussion with Velde about his succession. When he returned to Saxony, the School of art was closed and the only school that existed there was School of arts and crafts. He wanted to unite both schools and both schools accepted it. This was his first step for the Bauhaus school.

“Architects, painters, sculptors, we must all return to crafts! For there is no such thing as “professional art”. There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman. The artist is an exalted craftsman. By the grace of Heaven and in rare moments of inspiration which transcend the will, art may unconsciously blossom from the labour of his hand, but a base in handicrafts is essential to every artist. It is there that the original source of creativity lies.

Let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen without the class-distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let us desire, conceive, and create the new building of the future together. It will combine architecture, sculpture, and painting in a single form, and will one day rise towards the heavens from the hands of a million workers as the crystalline symbol of a new and coming faith.” – Walter Gropius

Weimar (1919 – 1925)

Walter Gropius wanted to create an architecture school that will reflect the time after the World War I. In 1919 he published manifesto of Bauhaus, which was focused against academic reform for art school. Main idea of the manifest was co-operation between craftsmen and artists.

According to the other universities, Gropius reached back to the old model of craftsman’s guilds.

At the early age of Bauhaus was founded organization so study that was base of Bauhaus: the successful admissions examination, all students had to attend one year of preparation course called Vorkurs (primary course) – a sort of trial semester, where they learned the sense for colours, materials, structures and they developed certain skills. After this preparation they were divided into workshops to earn a certificate of apprenticeship and simultaneously underwent artistic training. Between years 1919 and 1923 Bauhaus was strongly influenced by expressionism. After that, when Gropius talked about the school, he did not want to accept similarity of the De Stijl, the school he was very much against. In 1923, Bauhaus changed the direction and ideas. At that time, they were influenced by functionalism (they co-operated with Neue Sachlichkeit movement). In February 1924, social-democratic government, which has been supportive of Bauhaus, lost the main control in parliament to Nationalists. As the school was dependent on the government grants, and in 1925 Gropius signed less financing than was necessary for the school’s budget, at the end of same year Bauhaus had to be closed in Weimar.

Dessau (1925 – 1932)

When the Bauhaus had to move out, under the pressure of conservatives and rightists, several cities offered to take it over. But the Bauhaus decided to move to Dessau, because they offered them to build a new school. At that time, school was entering a new era. The lessons officially started on April 1st 1925. The Bauhaus program was changed; what was important at that time, was connection between creativity and industry. In 1927 Walter Gropius called for Hannes Meyer, who became a leader of architecture department. In 1928 when Gropius resigned, Meyer became a director of the Bauhaus. This change was very important for Bauhaus because Meyer introduced the extension of the scientific basis of teaching methods and artworks became more scientific. For teaching the lectures at the school leading experts across the entire field of philosophy, psychology, and physics were invited.

Now in the workshops, students began to produce standard products that became available for majority of population.

Meyer raised the number of students to 200, what was not very good for school, because it has lost the elite character. Bauhaus had to be accessible to the proletariat.

In 1930 Meyer was replaced by new director Mies van der Rohe, who kept the distance from any political stance. He wanted students to be primarily educated technically, artistically and in the crafts, so the education looked back to the Weimar basis. As director of Bauhaus, he had to face to lot of problems, school did not receive public construction contracts, and the city had reduced the its funding. He also had to face to the growing hostility towards Bauhaus in Dessau.

Berlin (1932 – 1933)

When the Nazi Party was becoming to the power, many of the members labelled the Bauhaus “un-German” and they accused the school from the “Bolshevik subversive activities”.

Bauhaus was forced to move to Berlin in 1932, since when it was a private school only, but circumstances forced the director to close the school in April 1933.

Political tension

As the director of Bauhaus, Mies van der Rohe, had to face a lot of difficulties, which mainly occurred during financial crisis in 1929 and also the enemies to Bauhaus in Dessau. City reduced financial funding dedicated to Bauhaus. Budgets in years 1931 and 1932 were lower than spending appraised by Meyer. The similar public contracts, that Gropius and Meyer received; did not come. The space in Bauhaus building had to cleared for technical school that had more than 1400 students (meanwhile Bauhaus had only around 170 students), so the Bauhaus could use only one floor with seven ateliers.

Strong student communistic party also existed at Bauhas. The last issue of their magazine was printed in Berlin in 1932, which was strongly supported by many students. Groups of students orientated to the right also existed there. In 1933, after school was closed, they made a petition for re-opening it.

Mies van der Rohe aided also the spiritual sight of Bauhaus with lot of seminars. He invited philosophers such as Helmuth Plessner and Hans Freyer, who taught by anthropologies regularity.

Preliminary course

One of the most important innovations in teaching at Bauhaus was preliminary course. At the beginning, this course was only one semester long. but later it changed into two semesters and what was important about this course was the fact, that every student had to pass it. After that it had to be decided, if the student is able to study further or not. From 1919, the course was lead by Johannes Itten, who made some specific rules that were irrational, but from the winter semester 1920/21 they were obligatory.

As Itten became the big opponent for Gropius’s new orientation for industry and productivity, in 1923 he decided to leave school. After that Gropius made a big revision of preliminary course. From 1924 the course’s first semester was lead by Josef Albers and more practical than the second one lead by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy that had more theoretical aspects. Josef Albers lead the course as “education of crafts” and it was understood as “creators education”. Moholy-Nagy preliminary course was well known by its three major areas that it was focused on. The first one consisted on learning how to combine elements. The second one was focused on exercises to distinguish composition from construction. And the last one, probably the most famous, was focused on three dimensional study designs. The course was mainly about how to create objects from simple elements and materials.

Hannes Meyer, the director of Bauhaus from the year 1928, the necessity of the preliminary course confirmed. From 1930 the course was changed into courses of Gestapsychology (psychology of form), sociology and social economy. In the same year the communistic students asked for (total) discontinuation of the preliminary course.

In 1930, director Mies van der Rohe declared the preliminary course as voluntary. He introduced the exam at the end of all semesters, that declared who is able to continue study further or not. According to these exams, the preliminary course lost the meaning of choosing talented students, homogenization of students and education to creativity. But the Mies van der Rohe enlarged the preliminary course for the architects of free drawings without instruments, because he wanted to develop their visual abilities. Albers led this course as well. In 1938, the preliminary course was changed into visual training course that had to prepare students to “vision in context”. From today’s point of view, the preliminary course was missing historical, nature and economic context.


For Walter Gropius, the workshops were the most important part of education in Bauhaus. The first concept was, that after the passing preliminary course, the student should start studying to be an architect. This idea has never changed into reality, because at the time when Gropius was director on Bauhaus, the architect department existed just for one year – from 1927 to 1928. So we can say, that during his time, Bauhaus had to reform education system of art and crafts.

In Weimar Bauhaus these workshops existed: the ceramics, the weaving, the metal, joinery, the wall painting, the woodcarving and stone sculpture. Besides the workshops, theater group, graphic editions and printing workshop also existed there. In Dessau, some of the workshops were put together into one workshop, or the name had been changed, or it was discontinued. Finally, only seven workshops existed: the metal, joinery, woodcarving, wall painting, the printing and advertising, sculpture and the theatre.

The teaching of architecture on Bauhaus existed from the year 1927, when three other workshops were formed. After that, it was easier to get the architecture education: the students needed just one year of experience in of the workshops. Lot of students abandoned Bauhaus with journeyman certificate or diploma and they never studied architecture. It mostly happened during the time when Hannes Mayer was the director of the Bauhaus.

Hannes Mayer, as a new director, started with some of the changes. He grouped some of the workshops; he totally discontinued the woodcarving workshops, because the main teacher, Oskar Schlemmer, left the school in 1929. He set up a new workshop for photography, but he wanted to group this workshop with the printing and advertising workshop. So we can say, that during the period when he was in charge, Bauhaus was mainly education institution for designers and architectures.

Everything changed when Mies van den Rohe became the director. After that it was possible to study architecture also without passing the preliminary course. At that time, Bauhaus was mainly orientated to the architecture. The biggest problem of workshops at that time was, that on one hand the workshop represented pedagogic principle but on other hand students had to gain some money by their works.

From expressionism to constructivism

The first years of Bauhaus, 1919 – 1921, were very expressionistic but Walter Gropius was strongly against De Stijl that was very similar to Bauhaus. In year 1923 Bauhaus was ruled by motto “art and technique – new unity” that was characteristic till 1928. But the big change came in 1922, with the first sign being the change of the logo; expressionistic cachet of Bauhaus with “star man” from Karl Peter Rohl changed into constructivism head of man designed by Oskar Schlemmer.

Expressionism, that was politicized after 1918 such as “cathedral of socialism” was now out and De Stijl movement became very popular, mainly because of painter and theoretic Theo van Doesburg.

From April 1921, Doesburg lived in Weimar and intensively cooperated with Bauhaus. He strongly influenced not only students but also teachers. He talked about De Stijl mostly and he abhorred craft that was studied on Bauhaus and he asked to use modern technologies to create a modern life. He thought that artists shouldn’t present their spiritual life or emotions but they should know their responsibility for creating the unity of the world. He did not allow all of the materials and he used just basic colours (red, blue and yellow) combining with no-colours (black, white and grey) but they could be combined in whole, rectangular areas. The creativity was balancing opposite meaning of the expressing tools: black and white, yellow and blue, horizontal with vertical, vacuum and matter. He attributed the creativity of space to the colour, that was popular in wall painting workshop.

Doesburg theory was combination of variety of knowledge. Countervailing of opposites had to come to the achievement of true and beauty of universe. It was followed by belief in machines.

The change from expressionism to constructivism started by group of Hungarian students. For them constructivism meant: constrictive, utilitarian, rational and international. Not only students changed their style but also teachers e.g. Kandinsky made geometrical their expressionistic art language. Composition of Paul Klee became more rationalistic; stroke of the brush and coating of colours was less personal, technical look. Schlemmer developed the theory of art, where he connected the basic human movements such as standing, swimming and walking with elementary ideas combining the basic ideas of De Stijl and constructivism. When Hungarian painter Laszlo Moholy-Nagy entered to Bauhaus in 1923, he changed his expressionistic past into constructivism art language. Until the year 1928 Bauhaus was influenced by different influence, that was not only from his own teacher but also from outside architects and designer suggestions.

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Alter Adolph Gropius (* 18. may, 1883, Berlin, German Empire – † 5. July, 1969, Boston, USA)

He was born into the architect family. He started studies to be an architect in 1903 in Munich and he finished in 1907 in Berlin. He cooperated with Mies van der Rohe, Dietrich, Le Corbusier, Arcks and Adolf Meyer. But his biggest carrier started when he became a director of Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in 1919. He transformed whole school into world famous Bauhaus. But under the pressure from conservative party he had to move from Weimar to Dessau in 1924, where he started to teach in more modern way. In Dessau he built the building for school, houses for masters and himself, everything built in a functionalism style. He also built habitation Torten in Dessau, where he created new urban concept, where houses were built in parallel and the main communication was connected to them perpendicular. He left the school in 1928, but he continued working as an architect. Between years 1929 and 1956 he was vice-president of CIAM (Congres International d’Architecture Moderne). In 1934 he had to immigrate to London but then he moved to the USA, where he became a professor at Harvard University, where he modernized education system. He built lot of famous building worldwide such as John. F Kennedy Federal Office Building in Boston; Pan Am Building in New York; University of Bagdad, etc.

Ludwig Mies van den Rohe (* 27. march, 1886, Aachen – † 19. august, 1969, Chicago)

He got his first experience from his father who had his own stone-carving shop. In 1905 he moved to Berlin, where he got job by architect and furniture designer Bruno Paul. He designed his first work when he was just 21 years old. He set up his own office in 1912. We can see that he tried to connect architecture with techniques in his work. He was the first one to use flat roof and cubistic material. Between 1930 and 1933 he became director of Bauhaus, but he had to face very complicated situation, so in 1938 he immigrated to the USA. He was famous because of his sentence ” less is more” and his Brno chair is so famous that is still produced nowadays. We can find his buildings worldwide e.g. villa Tugendhat in Brno, Seagram Building in New York, National Gallery in Berlin, etc.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

(July 20, 1895 – November 24, 1946), chyba hviezdicka a krizik

He was born into Jewish Hungarian family but he changed his German surname into Hungarian surname after his aunt and he added his second name after the city where he grew up. He studied law in Budapest and he met with constructivism in Vienna for the first time.

In 1923 he came to Bauhaus where he started to teach preliminary course because Johannes Itten left the school. We can say, that it was the end of his expressionism carrier and as we know, the Bauhaus was well known school, because of versatility of artists and he was no exception. Later at the Bauhaus he focused on photography and typography, but his main passion was preliminary course, where he gave students very complicated tasks to solve. From 1925 to 1928 he cooperated with Herbert Bayer in printing workshop and his responsibility was graphic edition of almost all books printed by Bauhaus.

Moholy-Nagy was against the typical photography and he tried to teach his students to see and present world by different perspective and he taught students to use the modernist techniques. He used different techniques such as montage, inversion of light values, double illumination, etc.

Officially, the photography was learnt at the Bauhaus since 1929, but at that time, he was not more in school. In 1928 he moved to Berlin and after that he travelled through Europe and finally he moved in 1937 to Chicago where he lived till his death.

Hannes Meyer (* 18. November 1889 – † 19. July 1954)

He was born in Switzerland and practised as an architect in different countries such as Switzerland, Belgium and Germany.

Meyer’s design philosophy is reflected in the following quote:

“1. sex life, 2. sleeping habits, 3. pets, 4. gardening, 5. personal hygiene, 6. weather protection, 7. hygiene in the home, 8. car maintenance, 9. cooking, 10. heating, 11. exposure to the sun, 12. services

In 1926 he established his own company with his friend and during that time, he produced his two most famous projects for the Geneva League of Nations Building and Basel Petersschule. Unfortunately none was built.

In 1927 he came to Bauhaus as a teacher of architecture and only one year later he became to be a director. A lot of changes to the education system came with him, the most important being enlargement of the theoretical scientist base of education. He was a good example of extreme functionalism and he was strongly against art part of architecture. During that time, many good teachers left the school e.g. Herbert Bayer and Macel Breuer. During the holidays in 1930, he had to leave Bauhaus, because of his strict communistic thinking. He moved to Moscow where he formed group Left Column. Consequently, he moved to Switzerland, Mexico and back to Switzerland where he died in 1954.

Herbert Bayer (Hagg, Austria, 1900 – Santa Bárbara, United States, 1985), chyba hviezdicka a krizik

He was one of the students at the Bauhaus being taught by e.g. Wassily Kandinsky, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and meno Gropius. After his studying, he was named to be a director of printing and advertising workshop. One of his characters was that he used only sans serif typefaces for almost all of the Bauhaus publications. In 1925 he created his own typeface called Universal today known as Bayer Universal. He left the school in 1928 and he moved to Berlin where he became to be the director for German magazine Vogue. Ten years later, he escaped from Nazi Germany to New York, where made carrier almost in every possible aspect of graphic art. He stayed in the USA till his death and he produced “phonetic alphabet” for English. It was basically again sans serif typeface but without capital letters. He became one of the most influential graphic designers of the twentieth century.

Printing and advertising workshop

During seven years of existence, 1925 – 1932, printing and advertising workshop changed completely. Each director had main role for this workshop. When Walter Gropius was the director of Bauhaus it was a production workshop in a small scale. The main product was advertising. When Hannes Mayer became director of Bauhaus everything changed. Joost Schmidt, the head of the workshop, developed the advertising, but in three-dimensional forms where quality of a graphic design was more important. Meanwhile in De Stijl and constructivism the art was more important than quality. When Schmidt dream became true, to create o professional printing and advertising workshop, everything changed again, new director, Mies van den Rohe, it was again only the teaching workshop and the result was that this workshop was closed before whole Bauhaus was closed.

When Bayer became a head of the workshop, he gave it a new purpose by introducing the subject of advertising. The new teaching timetable of 1926 contained a summary of the content of its classes: the methods and construction of advertising and their effective application were to be investigated and, in future planning, standardization and advertising psychology were to be studied.

In 1925, this workshop became a obligatory part of preliminary course and the Bauhaus was distinguished from other graphic schools that tried to train student to be a specialist in advertising. In first semester the students supposed to take undertake practical work after that it was combination of theoretical and practical. They studied the differentiation of advertising media and the most important was studying how to use photography and film in advertising. In forth semester they studied the structure and drafting of advertising plans. They had to focus on German industrial format and what was the most important for them, was the catch of the viewer’s eye. Bayer focused on design of advertising, rather than the placement, meanwhile when Joost Schmidt was head of printing and advertising workshop, he focused on visual rules of design. At the beginning the students had to experiment with geometric forms but it was almost forbidden to use free forms. For him, it was unsuitable to use collages, typeface exercises and photographs but the abstract form was the most important for advertising.

Schmidt created a new kinetic model for exhibition according to Moholy-Nagy work. Meanwhile, students got the technique skills for advertising in typesetting and printing. A new workshop for photography directed by Peterhans was opened in 1929, but till that time Schmidt tried to teach students perspective drawing and painting. Between 1928 and 1930 they produced several exhibitions, for example in Berlin and Linz. But their financial situation went wrong and also Mies van der Rohe was very critically to Schmidt workshop so for the next exhibition he wanted to show his doubts about Schmidt. What was even worse was the fact that even the photography students had to distance from Schmidt teaching methods. Following year he was under big pressure and finally in 1932 he collapsed.

Typography in Bauhaus

In the first year of existence of Bauhaus school in Weimar, typography was not very well developed. There were just two calligraphers at school, Johannes Itten and Lothar Schreyer but for them, it was just expression of artistic meaning and at the beginning practical field of application was missing there. Development of typography started in 1923, when school poster with unique typeset and design was made. Year after that, it was changed to school emblem. The original one, that looked like mason’s mart, a spread-eagled figure carrying aloft a pyramid, was replaced by the new one designed by Oskar Schlemmer that looked like geometric profile of a head, which could be very simply reproduced.

The typical characters for Bauhaus typography were rules and sans serif types, that somehow became a stereotype, but accepting the stereotype was the part of radical reform. In 1921 the Bauhaus master Johannes Itten tried to make reform, where he combine black letter (Fraktur) with heavy Victorian types, where we can see the combination of printer’s ornaments, dots and squares. He set up one of the first Bauhaus characteristics, which was geometrical feature of the page.

The next step for Bauhaus typography was to solve the problems with German alphabet that was quite old according to the new machine age. They decided to write all nouns in German starting with capital letter. A footnote, which appeared on the Bauhaus letterhead designed by Herbert Bayer in 1925, stated the school’s attitude uncompromisingly:

Towards a simplified way of writing

  1. This is the way recommended by reforms of lettering as our future letterform, cf. the book ‘sprache und schrift’ (speech and letterform) by dr. porstmann, union of German engineers publishers, Berlin 1920.
  2. In restricting ourselves to lower-case letters our type loses nothing, but becomes more easily read, more easily learned, substantially more economic
  3. Why is there for one sound, for example a, two signs A and a? one sound, one sign, why two alphabets for one word, why double the number of signs, when half would achieve the same?

The main character for Bauhaus typography was geometrical base that was base for functionalism. At the Bauhaus, Josef Alberts and Joost Schmidt made a lot of alphabets, but it was Bayer, who was the main typographer there. His well known typeface Universal (1926) consisted of circles and straight lines of a constant thickness on a grid squares. They used upper and lower case, but they never combined them and they always combined them with vibrant colours.

But situation has radically changed when László Moholy-Nagy entered the school in 1923. He introduced the ideas of “New Typography”. What he wanted, basically, was that the typography had to be communication medium and message should be clear. Since 1923 his influence was visible on advertising campaign for Bauhaus and after that when the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, he became co-editor of Bauhaus typography, where the Bayer was director of printing and advertising workshop. The typical characteristic of that period was that bold sans serif was used for heading and subheading for single words to interrupt the flow of lines. This innovation was technically complicated in metal type.

From that time, the typography was very closely connected with corporate identity of school. It was clear, that type prints, the articulation and accentuation of pages through distinct symbols or typographic elements highlighted in colour, and finally direct information in a combination of text and photography were the main characteristics for Bauhaus typography.

Herbert Bayer also designed letters that appeared on Bauhaus building in Dessau. He was responsible for all printing material for Bauhaus. Because the workshop was limited to narrow sans-serifs fonts some of them became very similar. He used vertical and horizontal rules and printed it on red and black and this became another stereotype of the Bauhaus. But it was very common for many avant-gardes. His most ambitious work was poster designed for Kandinsky sixteen’s birthday exhibition. It was printed on orange paper and again he printed it red and black and you can see strong rectangularity.

Bauhaus, De Stijl and Vkhutemas

Main characteristics of Bauhaus:

The main colours that they used are blue, yellow and red and the characteristic shapes were triangle, square and circle. One of the most characteristic features for the Bauhaus was simplicity. The design was very simple in lines and shapes. They used straight lines or gentle, smooth curves. They weren’t afraid to use shapes. It wasn’t so strict as in De Stijl. We can also see repetition of certain layers. They also used a row of identical cylinders of two, three corners that were out from the others to produce very simple but strong effect. Next strong feature was quality. The products they made were light and airy. They used new materials such as steel, aluminium, plastics and glass. Tables and chairs are another strong feature. Often they were focused on design some small pieces where they used materials such as plastics, class, chrome and other metals that could somehow highlight the materials themselves. The materials had to be cleaned by water easily and quick. We should also understand the difference between the functionalism of Craftsman and Bauhaus design. The other typical feature was the Bauhaus material wasn’t handcrafted pieces but it was made in mass production. They had to have the industrial look.

Main characteristics of De Stijl:

Same as in the Bauhaus the main colours for De Stijl were red, yellow and blue and supporting colours we can say that were black, white and grey. Every colour had some meaning for example the yellow meant expansive and vertical. On the other hand the blue one was opposite, soft, retiring and horizontal. The meaning of red was expressed the radiating movement of the life. Combining all three colours you will have green. But for example


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