The Swiss Expressionist painter Johannes Itten, who had trained in Berne, arrived in Stuttgart to study with the painter and theoretician Adolf Hölzel in 1913 and soon afterwards became a teacher of some of Hölzel’s students. In 1916 he set up his own school in Vienna and in 1919 began to perform an important educational role at Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus.
The present work on canvas, entitled Group of Houses in Spring, depicts a number of buildings on Gansheide, a wooded hill near Stuttgart where the painter had rented a small house with a garden, which he also used as a studio. Although undated, it would appear to have been executed in 1916 judging by a comparison with a similar drawing made that year and published in Vienna by the historian Hans Tietze.
Itten produces a composition steeped in an abstract rhythm of forms and colours which, on the one hand, shows his interest in his master Hölzel’s colour wheel and in the way colours affected people both psychologically and spiritually and, on the other, reveals his intention to apply the compositional principles of music to painting. This aim is clearly stated in the March 1916 entry in his diary: “I am also going to try to find a style as far as colour is concerned. A painting organised around the simple emphasis Cold-Hot or Light-Dark or Behind-In Front or Transparent-Opaque. Through it, and without the need for anything else, I would achieve powerful expression. Then I could introduce a second voice as accompaniment. Only the principal melody should remain safeguarded.”