Herbert Bayer

Herbert Bayer was an Austrian and American artist who dabbles in graphic designing, painting, photography, and sculpting. However, he is more known as a graphic designer although he was first trained in architecture. He was Bauhaus’ last living member — Germany’s most prominent school of design back then. One of his legacies was spreading advertising in the United States based on European principles. He also played a vital role in in the improvement of the corporate art collection of Atlantic Richfield Company until his death in 1985. He’d also worked as an art director for a well-known American magazine, Vogue. Bayer was also an award-winning artist garnering awards in Europe.

Herbert Bayer Career

Herbert Bayer is one of the most prominent and influential names in the history of Bauhaus. He studied under infamous teachers such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy. After four years of studying in Bauhaus, Walter Gropius appointed him as the director of advertising and printing.

During his time as a director of advertising and printing in Bauhaus, he was also working simultaneously with Vogue magazine. He was the art director of Vogue, a popular American magazine.

Bayer’s style was more reductive minimalism. He used sans-serif typefaces, all-lower cases for a crisper graphics look. He did this for most of his Bauhaus publications. Apart from Bayer, Kurt Schwitters and Jan Tschichold were the only ones who experimented on these kinds of typography which was more phonetic-based and simplified.

From 1925 to 1930, Bayer would spend his time working on a geometric sans-serif known as the “Proposal for Universal Typeface.” However, it only existed as a design and was never used and cast for a real type. Today, these are available digitally as Bayer Universal.

In 1928, he left Bauhaus and moved to Berlin. He continued work as an art director with Vogue and spent his time working in typography, advertising, painting, advertising, photography, and exhibition design until 1938. One of his works in Germany was the brochure for Deutschland Ausstellung for the 1936 Olympic Games.

However, Bayer’s works were used for a Nazi propaganda exhibition known as “Degenerate Art.” For that, he left Germany and spent some time in Italy. In 1938, he moved to New York City and concentrated on working on his advertising designs. It was in 1943 that he became an American citizen.

Bayer continued his work in America and in 1946, he became the Container Corporation of America’s chairman of the department of design. He also became a part of Aspen Development as a design consultant.

Herbert Bayer Key Ideas

  • Herbert Bayer has worked on several areas of art such as advertising, painting, photography, and typography. However, he is most known for both his works in typography as well as his graphic art. For typography, his work became the staple of Bauhaus publications with the use of sans serif typefaces that were all in lower-case. The end result showcases a minimalist and crisp look. He was also very keen on using geometric compositions for his designs, working with lines, planes, and circles as well as vibrant colors for his color schemes. His paintings were also made with crisp lines and in a way, always seemed as if you were looking through a window and the scenery outside.
  • While Bayer worked on several aspects of art, most of what he’s done centered around contemporary art with his photographs showcasing building facades, architectural designs, and even manipulated images that showcase bizarre yet stunning images. While his paintings and designs were more colorful, the images he captured were in monochrome, giving a stark contrast to his paintings and graphic designs. Bayer’s sculptures are not very many, but they do have a similarity with most of his works in a way that it centers around depth and lines. His work in architecture also shows in some of his works such as the “Circular Stairs” made in 1968.
  • Bayer combined his knowledge in both architecture and advertising in most of his works. He created architectural projects that were mostly based on his knowledge in graphic design and vice versa. The artist created several booths and kiosks during the early 1920s and he would combine primary colors with volumetric and geometric compositions as with a lot of his current paintings and designs. It’s also common for him to make collages and add black and white photos against a solid, flat colored surface. This often creates an axonometric projection. There was also a time when he created a musical theme with musical instruments.
  • His concept for almost every work he has done was more or less achieving a minimalist look as well as showcasing his architectural knowledge. He likes working with planes and lines and always had a pop of color for his designs and paintings. When it comes to his photographs, Bayer was one of those people who liked to create thought-provoking images. Before Photoshop and photo-editing software on computers, they were able to manipulate images and create photomontages that were borderline fantasy. For example, his infamous self-portrait in 1932 shows him in front of a mirror with his hands up, a portion missing.
  • Bayer’s works have always been rather straightforward and what you see is what you get. Basically, because advertising calls for something that you can easily understand, making it easier to market a certain product. Most of his designs were also, in a way, abstract with no definite meaning. Just shapes and colors matched together to make it pleasing to the eyes and make it easier to catch in an array of advertisements. Although his color scheme might say something different. While his photographs were monochrome, his designs were vibrantly colored. He’d choose at least one color and then create a design with various shades. It gives the work more depth and a clean look.
  • His subjects were mostly planes and shapes, even with his photomontages. Although he did create images that were a little unusual like eyes on the palms or on trees. Most of his work showcased non-living objects and geometric shapes. In his paintings, Bayer’s works almost allude to everyday sceneries. There’s one that looks like the ocean, complete with the ocean blue color and what even looked like corals. His “Owl People” painting in 1948 looked almost like an Impressionist painting with the broken lines. However, it still has its crisp lines unlike that of the short strokes of Impressionist artists.


Herbert Bayer was born on April 5, 1900 in Haag, Austria. When he was 19, he began an apprenticeship under the artist Georg Schmidthamer in Linz where he first started to work as a typographer.

In 1921, he began working as an assistant to Josef Emmanuel Margold, an architect in Darmstadt. While working there, he came across the Bauhaus Manifesto of Walter Gropius and became interested. That was when he decided to enroll in Weimar Bauhaus to learn mural painting and typography. He studied under legendary names such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky.

By 1928, the artist moved to Berlin where he was successful in establishing a graphic design firm. Although the government of Germany and its growing Nazi parties were becoming more oppressive, Bayer remained in Berlin far longer than his fellow artists. He was even able to design a brochure for the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany.

It wasn’t until his works were used as Nazi propaganda that he escaped Germany and travelled for a while around Italy. By 1938, he has already settled in his new home: New York City. There, he organized an exhibit known as “Bauhaus 1919-1928.” From then on, his fame grew and so did his career.

Bayer met an oil man and businessman named Robert O. Anderson. The latter noticed Bayer’s home which he designed so Anderson went over to Bayer to introduce himself. This would be the beginning of a lifetime of friendship.

Anderson created the Atlantic Richfield Company where Bayer created the company logo as well as other corporate brandings needed by Anderson. He also designed a sculpture/fountain known as the “Double Ascension.” It’s located in the middle of the dark, granite towers. Bayer was also responsible for overseeing the ARCO Plaza acquisition.

Bayer continued to work with the company until his death on September 30, 1985.

Herbert Bayer Art

Herbert Bayer is one of the most creative artists as he was able to create hundreds of artworks from design and print, paintings, sculptures, photographs, and even architectural buildings. However, here are some of the most notable works by the artist.

Proposal for a Universal Typeface

This was created from 1925 to 1930 from the time Bayer was still in Bauhaus until he went to work in Germany. This was a sans-serif typeface that was geometric — created with rounds and straight lines. It only consists of lower-cases which has rather become a Bayer style.

Although it became a popular work by Bayer later on, it wasn’t used and was never cast into a real one. It only existed in design until it became available digitally as Bayer Universal. This was one of his greatest and well-known work as a typography.


Self-portrait was a photomontage by Herbert Bayer in 1932. It’s a stunning visual in a way that is utterly bizarre and inhuman. However, it’s also unique and quirky, especially during a time when computer software doesn’t exist yet.

Basically, this photo montage shows Bayer in front of a mirror with one of his arms up. His face is in shock and amazement as a portion of his arm was missing or at least taken away. He holds the missing portion, somewhat like a loaf of bread or piece of meatloaf in his other hand.

The most amazing thing about this image is that it is unrealistic but looks incredibly real. It’s as if the man himself was made from clay. The missing portion was cleanly cut.

Double Ascension

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmf1007/26599152573

The “Double Ascension” is a 20 by 30 feet sculpture created by Herbert Bayer in 1969 and is currently located in Los Angeles. It’s an abstract sculpture that’s vividly painted in bright red. This was commissioned by ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Company) which was owned by Bayer’s close friend, Robert O. Anderson.

Originally, the sculpture was supposed to be named “Stairway to Nowhere.” However, company officials asked to change its name to what it’s currently called.

“Double Ascension” is pretty simple – two stairways starting at different points and meeting to a flat surface, leading to nowhere. It is mounted atop a 50-foot diameter pool. If you look at it from afar, it actually looks like it was floating.

This artwork looked like one of Bayer’s earlier work known as “Circular Stairs.”

Bauhaus Poster

The Bauhaus Poster was created in 1968 which showcased Bayer’s love for planes and shapes. The background was in light blue with circles, squares, and triangles alongside their 3D counterparts.

While the plain shapes were flat in color, the geometric 3D objects were created with shadowing to create the effect that it has volume.

Meanwhile, the typography is distinctive of Bayer with the lower cause except for the letter “A” which was a stylized upper-case “A.”


This 1936 photograph is another of Bayer’s works that contain geometrical composition. It showcases 3D objects rolling in what seemed like a cave. The background shows the scenery — the top of the trees and the sky filled with clouds.

Looking at the spheres, cones, pyramids, and cubes, it would look like they are rolling out of the cave for a first glimpse of the sky.

A Process in Blue

“A Process in Blue” was an oil on canvas painting by Bayer made in 1936. The recurring subjects – the 3D objects – can be seen in the painting as well. It may look like it’s under the sea or perhaps under a bright blue sky with some clouds.

But there are also the pieces that will make you say it’s an underwater imagery. There are shapes that look like corals as well as spheres that look like pearls.

Created with shades of blue and a hint of pink and coral, it’s a painting that’s soothing to the eyes.


Herbert Bayer’s influences may have been his teachers and fellow students in Bauhaus. That includes Klee, Kandinsky, and Moholy-Nagy. He was also among several students of Bauhaus that experimented with new typographies along with Jan Tschichold and Kurt Schwitters.

Today, Bayers remain to be an influential graphic artist, sculptor, painter, designer, architect, and photographer for many aspiring artists.

Herbert Bayer Resources

Wikipedia. Herbert Bayer. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Bayer

Wikipedia. Double Ascension. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_Ascension

Artnet. Herbert Bayer. Retrieved from http://www.artnet.com/artists/herbert-bayer/?type=paintings

Web Archive. (3, February 2008) Proposal for Universal Typeface. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20081203192950/http://www.papress.com/thinkingwithtype/teachers/type_lecture/history_bayer.htm

Encyclopaedia Britannica. Herbert Bayer. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herbert-BayerDethal, Lor. (7, May 2013). Herbert Bayer. Retrieved from https://www.widewalls.ch/artist/herbert-bayer/

From Bauhaus to Aspen: Herbert Bayer and Modernist Design in America

Herbert Bayer: painter, designer, architect

The Way Beyond Art: The Work of Herbert Bayer

Herbert Bayer – Limited Edition: The Complete Works

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