Xanti Schawinsky

1924–1926 Bauhaus student / 1927–1929 stagecraft teacher

Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016
Portrait of Xanti Schawinsky at the Bauhaus in Dessau, photo: Josef Albers, around 1929.

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Alexander Victor Schawinsky (also known as Xanti Schawinsky) was born on 25 March 1904 in Basel to a mercantile family of Polish Jews. In 1923 he heard about the Bauhaus’s existence and travelled without further ado to the first major Bauhaus exhibition in Weimar, where he met Josef Albers and Walter Gropius. In spring 1924 Schawinsky then enrolled at the Bauhaus, where he attended the obligatory preliminary course, studied the basics of form and colour theory under László Moholy-Nagy und Wassily Kandinsky, learned analytical drawing under Paul Klee and took architecture classes with Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer. Soon after his arrival at the Bauhaus he became a member of Oskar Schlemmer’s stage workshop, where he began to create his own sketches and dance-based pantomimes. Schawinsky’s first piece, 'Circus', was performed for the first time in 1925 in Weimar. This was followed by 'Olga, Olga', 'Tiller Girls', 'Feminine Repetitionen' and his 'Stepptänzer versus Steppmaschine'. At the Bauhaus, Schawinsky already began to develop the 'Spectodrama', an early version of Total Theatre. Alongside his studies, stage work and his own painting, the Bauhausler devoted himself to his passion for music as a saxophonist in the Bauhauskapelle (Bauhaus band). By 1926, he was already engaged for a season at the Stadttheater in Zwickau, where he worked as a set designer. After returning to the Bauhaus in 1927 he gave classes about the practical experiences he had gained on the ground. When Walter Gropius resigned from his post as director of the Bauhaus and was replaced by Hannes Meyer, Schawinsky was appointed there to teach stage design.


Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Daniel Schawinsky
Circus, Draft for a stage scene (tamer and beast), draft: Xanti Schawinsky, 1924


In 1929 Xanti Schawinsky left the Bauhaus for a job as head of the graphics department at the Städtische Hochbauamt (municipal building department) in Magdeburg. Here until 1932 he worked on designs for exhibitions, theatres and museums. With the political discrimination against Polish Jews under the National Socialists, Schawinsky left for Berlin, where he continued to work as a graphic designer. In 1933 he fled through Switzerland to Italy. Up to 1936 he worked as an advertising graphics designer for Studio Boggeri in Milan and as a freelance graphic designer for large companies such as Cinzano, Motta and Illy. His first solo exhibition was held in Galerie Il Milione.

In 1935 Schawinsky left Italy for political reasons. In 1936, he responded to Josef Albers’s call to teach at Black Mountain College. Until 1938 he worked here as a professor of drawing and colour theory and founded the Stage Studies workshop, which was based on the idea of the Bauhaus stage. Together with the students, he devised multimedia productions that dealt with space, movement, light, sound and colour. In this way, Schawinsky brought the groundbreaking ideas of the avant-garde Bauhaus stage to the USA.

Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © T. Lux Feininger Estate.
Group portrait (from left clockwise: Herbert Bayer, Xanti Schawinsky, Heinrich Koch, Andor Weininger, Werner Jackson), photo: T. Lux Feininger, 1926–1928


In 1938 Moholy-Nagy called the former Bauhaus student to the New Bauhaus in Chicago. However, this closed down shortly before his arrival and, since a return to Black Mountain College was out of the question, Schawinsky relocated to New York. Here, he first worked with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer on the design of the Pennsylvania Pavilion for the World’s Fair of 1939.

In the years thereafter the former Bauhausler worked at various institutions, among them New York City College (1943–1944, 1945–1946) and New York University (1950–1954). From 1961–1962 he was employed by the Stadttheater Basel as a costume and set designer. Up to his death on 11 September 1979 in Locarno, Italy, Xanti Schawinsky worked on his so far unpublished autobiography.

[AG 2015]

Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Daniel Schawinsky
Danse Macabre, scene photo of a performance at Black Mountain College, design: Xanti Schawinsky / music: John Evarts, North Carolina, 14. Mai 1938: scene 'Gentle Woman Amorosa', 1938, reproduction 1976
  1. Literature:
  2. Galerie Döbele (1990): Xanti Schawinsky: Werke der Amerika-Zeit, Stuttgart.
  3. Hahn, Peter & Barbara Paul (1986): Xanti Schawinsky: Malerei, Bühne, Grafikdesign, Fotografie, Berlin.
  4. Holz, Hans Heinz (1981): Xanti Schawinsky: Bewegung im Raum, Bewegung d. Raums, Zürich. Kempkes, Anke: Xanti Schawinsky. I am the Ghost that haunts the Bauhaus..., http://www.schawinsky.com/bio, 10.06.2016.
  5. Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst (2015): Xanti Schawinsky, Zürich.
  6. Schawinsky-Nachlass (1989): Xanti Schawinsky. Foto, Bern.
  7. Schawinsky, Xanti: metamorphose bauhaus, in:Neumann, Eckhard (1996): Bauhaus und Bauhäusler. Erinnerungen und Bekenntnisse, Köln.
  8. Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau (1993): Xanti Schawinsky. Magdeburg 1929–1931, Dessau.
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