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Paul was born in Seifhennersdorf, a village in rural Saxony, in 1874. His father was an independent tradesman, craftsman, and dealer in building materials. At twelve years old Paul left Seifhennersdorf for Dresden, where he briefly attended Gymnasium before entering a teacher’s training school. By 1892 he was determined to pursue a career in the arts. In 1893 he was accepted as a student at the Saxon Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1894, Paul moved to Munich, then the artistic capital of Wilhelmine Germany. He enrolled at the Munich Academy as a student of the painter Paul Höcker, one of the founding members of the Munich Secession. Höcker provided Paul’s introduction to the city’s circle of progressive artists, which included his classmates Reinhold Max Eichler, Max Feldbauer, Walter Georgi, Angelo Jank, Walter Püttner, Leo Putz, Ferdinand von Rezniçek and Walter Schulz. In 1896, Paul left the Academy to begin an independent career. After working briefly as a studio painter, he won lasting renown as an illustrator. He was a regular contributor to Jugend, the magazine from which the Jugendstil, the German counterpart to the French and Belgian Art Nouveau, derived its name. The leading figures of this movement, including Peter Behrens, Bernhard Pankok, and Richard Riemerschmid, as well as the majority of the founding members of the Munich Secession, all provided illustrations to Jugend. After 1897, Paul joined the staff of the satirical magazine Simplicissimus. Paul's weekly contributions to Simplicissimus between 1897 and 1906 won him international acclaim.
In 1898, Paul, together with Behrens, Pankok, and Riemerschmid, was working as an applied artist. He was a leading figure in the development of the Jugendstil, and quickly established himself as the premier designer for the Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk, a maker of artistic housewares in Munich. The Jugendstil Hunter’s Room he designed for the Vereinigte Werkstätten in 1900 received a gold medal at the 1900 Paris International Exposition and was the first of a series of prestigious commissions that won widespread professional admiration. He won another gold medal at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, introducing his interior designs to a broad American audience. In 1906, Paul designed a festival decoration for a barracks in Munich, his first commission on an architectural scale. His design (perhaps apocryphally) impressed Kaiser Wilhelm II and facilitated his appointment to the vacant directorship of the Unterrichtsanstalt des königlichen Kunstgewerbe-Museums (educational institution of the royal museum of applied arts) in Berlin, an institution analogous to the South Kensington (later, Victoria and Albert) Museum in London or to the Art Institute in Chicago.
Paul’s appointment in Berlin was part of a wider program of educational reforms promoted by Hermann Muthesius and Wilhelm von Bode. Paul, who was a member of the Munich Secession and the Berlin Secession as well as being one of the twelve artists who founded the German Werkbund, proved a committed reformer. He revised the curriculum of the Unterrichtsanstalt to promote practical craftsmanship as the basis of artistic education. He emphasized the training of professional designers for the applied arts industries, establishing a precedent that continues in schools of design to the present day.
As a designer, Bruno Paul provided more than 2,000 furniture patterns to the Vereinigte Werkstätten. He also designed furniture for Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau as well as designing ship interiors for the Norddeutscher Lloyd, Pianos for Ibach, and streetcars for the city of Berlin. Paul’s most historically significant furniture design was the Typenmöbel of 1908, the first example of modern, unit furniture conceived to allow an unlimited number of combinations of standardized, machine-made elements. Like much of his work, the Typenmöbel was widely published in contemporary professional journals.
Paul’s architecture was closely related to his designs for furnishings and interiors. Prior to the First World War he was best known as a residential architect. His houses were simple and elegant, efficiently planned and devoid of superfluous ornament. His favored vocabulary, an abstracted classicism, had a profound influence on the work of his students and apprentices. In 1914, Paul designed a model house and two restaurants for the Werkbund exhibition in Cologne. His buildings reflected the prevailing tone of the exhibition, and underscored the extent to which his pre-war work reflected the harmonious culture advocated by the Werkbund.
After 1918, Paul’s architecture reflected the changing economic and social conditions of the Weimar Republic. In 1924, he designed the Plattenhaus Typ 1018 for the Deutsche Werkstätten, a prefabricated concrete dwelling developed in response to the pressing need for affordable housing. Although the stark, prismatic volumes of the Plattenhaus reflected the vocabulary of the neue Sachlichkeit, the elegant detailing was typical of Paul’s pre-war designs. By the end of the decade, he was completing large, commercial projects throughout Germany. In 1928, he was working on a department store for the Sinn company in Gelsenkirchen, the Dischhaus office building in Cologne, and the Hochhaus am Kleistpark, the first skyscraper in Berlin. The Sinn department store, with its cantilevered reinforced concrete frame and entirely glass curtain walls, exemplified the technical sophistication of these buildings, which demonstrated Paul’s mastery of the emerging International Style.
United State School for Fine and Applied Art
Paul implemented the full scope of his program of reforms in 1924, when the Unterrichtsanstalt was merged with the art school of the Prussian Academy. The new institution, the Vereinigte Staatsschulen für freie und angewandete Kunst (United State School for Fine and Applied Art), provided a coherent educational program that encompassed every technical and creative aspect of artistic endeavor. As its first director, Paul led an institution regarded by Nikolaus Pevsner as one of the two most important in Germany. In the scope of its curriculum and its number of students, Paul’s school in Berlin far surpassed the other, the Bauhaus. Paul’s students, either in his nominally private architectural practice or in his academic atelier, included Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Adolf Meyer, Paul Thiersh, Kem Weber, and Sergius Ruegenberg.
Paul's career was effectively terminated in 1933, when the Nazi accession resulted in his forced resignation from the Vereinigte Staatsschulen, his expulsion from the Prussian Academy, and his renunciation of the prospect of significant architectural commissions.
As a teacher, designer and architect, Bruno Paul was one of the progenitors of the Modern Movement. His work embodied one of the most significant, and frequently overlooked, directions in the history of progressive design in Europe, that of a pragmatic Modernism attuned to the needs and desires of the middle class. Paul’s mature designs embodied simplicity and clarity of form, stylistic abstraction and functional elegance. By promoting these ideals through his involvement with the Werkbund, his leadership of the Vereinigte Staatsschulen in Berlin, and his prolific work as a designer, Bruno Paul facilitated the popular acceptance of Modernism as the characteristic style of the Twentieth Century.
- Wenzel, Paul, MONOGRAPH OF THE WORK OF BRUNO PAUL with 319 Photographs of Houses and Gardens, NY, Architectural Book Publishing, 1921.
- Friedrich Ahlers-Hestermann, Bruno Paul: oder, Die Wucht des Komischen, Berlin, 1960.
- Sonja Günther, Interieurs um 1900, Munich, 1971.
- Sonja Günther, Bruno Paul 1874-1968, Berlin, 1992.
- W. Owen Harrod, Bruno Paul: The Life and Work of a Pragmatic Modernist, Stuttgart, 2005.
- Joseph Popp, Bruno Paul, Munich, 1916.
- Jost Schäfer, Bruno Paul in Soest: Villen der 20er Jahre und ihre Ausstattung, Bonn, 1993.
- Alfred Ziffer, ed., Bruno Paul, Deutsche Raumkunst und Architektur zwischen Jugendstil und Moderne, Munich, 1992.
- Alfred Ziffer, ed., Bruno Paul und die Deutschen Werkstätten Hellerau, Dresden, 1993.
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