Josef and Anni Albers: the Bauhaus misfits who scaled art's peaks

He was the son of a painter and decorator; she was a rich girl from Berlin. Looked down on at the Bauhaus and fleeing the Nazis, they fell in love, moved to America – and changed the course of art history

On 5 December 1933, the Asheville Citizen ran a photograph over the lukewarm caption: “Germans to teach art near here.” The Germans in question – the couple in the photo – were Josef and Anni Albers. They had arrived in the United States from Berlin a week earlier. Six months before that, menaced by the Nazis, the Bauhaus had closed its doors. The Albers had spent more than a decade teaching there, he as Meister of the foundation course, she as head of the weaving workshop. Desperate to leave Germany – Anni’s family were Jewish – they had taken jobs in a place neither had heard of: poring over an atlas, the pair had searched in vain for North Carolina in maps of the Philippines. The Bauhaus had been the world’s most renowned design school. The school they were to teach at now had 30 students, was six months old, in the back of beyond and completely unknown. It had no art department. It was called Black Mountain College.

Related: Anni Albers review – ravishing textiles that beg to be touched

Charles Darwent’s biography Josef Albers: Life and Work, is published by Thames & Hudson on 11 October. The exhibition Anni Albers is at Tate Modern, London, 11 October to 27 January. The Bauhaus centenary will be marked by Bauhaus Imaginista,a series of events in German cities, Rabat, Moscow, New Delhi, Lagos and elsewhere.

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