Published  05/05/2006

Moholy-Nagy and that transient London spring

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was a brilliant luminary who was a formidable influence in Europe and England, in the period up to 1935. After that brief sojourn in London, he left for the United States, where he died prematurely in November 1945. In some works of the 1920s, there was little to tell him apart from his Bauhaus colleague, Josef Albers, with whom he shares the Tate Modern exhibition. But their paths are gradually seen to separate out. He fulfilled, on arrival in England, remarkable and diverse projects. One was the standard route map for Imperial Airways (predecessor to British Airways as national flag carrier). This was executed in 1936. Another unusual project, but which revealed his talent for succinct photo-documentation, was a superb set of photographs of Eton College, which were published in Bernard Fergusson's famous monograph, 'Eton Portrait' (1937). Both these projects are included, as well as a superb poster for London Transport (1937).

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy had been well received in England by the finely tuned, if embryonic, modernist network that existed in North London, including Wells Coates, Jack Pritchard, Ben Nicholson and Leslie Martin. Gropius was at this time temporarily living in Pritchard's Lawn Road Flats in Hampstead. Moholy-Nagy had got to know the architect Alvar Aalto at the famous Athens International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM, 1934) and they became firm friends, together with Philip Morton Shand, the influential British architectural critic and commentator. Shand worked with Aalto and Moholy-Nagy in the exhibition of Aalto's furniture, which Shand organised at Fortnum and Mason, Piccadilly (1934). But soon, Gropius left for the United States and encouraged Moholy-Nagy to follow, which he duly did. This was a severe blow to the emergent avant-garde of like-minded architects and designers in the mid-1930s, where England, as always, was difficult terrain for innovation.

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