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László Moholy-Nagy

  • László Moholy-Nagy emigrated to London in 1935, where he worked in close contact with the local avantgarde and was commissioned for window display decoration, photo books, advertising and film work.
  • László
  • Moholy-Nagy
  • 20-07-1895
  • Bácsborsód (HU)
  • 24-11-1946
  • Chicago (US)
  • PhotographerGraphic DesignerPainterSculptor
  • László Moholy-Nagy emigrated to London in 1935, where he worked in close contact with the local avantgarde and was commissioned for window display decoration, photo books, advertising and film work.

    Word Count: 30

  • László Moholy-Nagy, Cover of sales leaflet for Marcel Breuer’s Isokon Long Chair, 1937 (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © László Moholy-Nagy).
  • In November 1933, the Bauhaus artist, photographer and graphic designer László Moholy-Nagy came to London. Subsequently, Moholy-Nagy exchanged letters with the artists Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, which he wrote in German (Moholy-Nagy 1934). Both Hepworth and Nicholson lived in Hampstead, a London neighbourhood where many artists lived and where the number of emigrants grew during the 1930s. Among the artists who lived there were Roland Penrose, Henry Moore, Naum Gabo, Piet Mondrian and the art historian Herbert Read, who was to become one of László Moholy-Nagy’s most important supporters and described him in an article for Architectural Review as “one of the most creative intelligences of our time” (Read 1935; Carullo 2019, 14). László Moholy-Nagy and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, the second wife of the artist, and their daughter Hattula emigrated to London via Amsterdam in 1935. The fact that Walter Gropius, the founding director of the Bauhaus art school, had been living in London since October 1934 was probably not unimportant in this decision. Like Walter and Ise Gropius, the Moholy-Nagy family initially found accommodation in the Lawn Road Flats in Hampstead, owned by Jack Pritchard and his furniture and architecture firm Isokon. Marcel Breuer, another Bauhäusler, joined them and the three found a client in Isokon. László Moholy-Nagy, for example, was responsible for a brochure for the Isokon Long Chair designed by Breuer. Moholy-Nagy also worked with the former Bauhäusler György Kepes, like himself and Breuer, an exiled Hungarian living in London.

    After a short time, the Moholy-Nagy family moved to a house at 7 Farm Walk in Hampstead Garden Suburb in north-west London but continued to maintain close contacts with the Hampstead artistic and intellectual scene, for example with the architect Ernö Goldfinger and his wife, the painter Ursula Goldfinger (Carullo 2019, 22f.). A visit by Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson with their triplets to 7 Farm Walk in June 1936 is documented in photographs. The collaboration between local and emigrant artists is described by Herbert Read in his memoir A Nest of Gentle Artists: “Meanwhile in Germany events were moving to a crisis, and the first refugee artists began to arrive. Walter Gropius came in 1934 and lived in one of the flats in Lawn Road which Wells Coates had built for Jack Pritchard. Moholy-Nagy came in 1935 and Naum Gabo the same year; and finally, in 1938, came Piet Mondrian, who set up a studio in Parkhill Road alongside the Mall. The presence of Gabo and Moholy-Nagy greatly strengthened the Constructivist element in the group, and in 1937 they felt strong enough to issue their own manifesto, the volume called Circle which was published in 1937 with Leslie Martin (a new accession on the architectural side), Ben Nicholson and Gabo as joint editors.” (Read 1965, 7) The publication mentioned by Read, Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art, a manifesto of abstract art, was published by Faber & Faber in 1937.

    László Moholy-Nagy was a much sought-after graphic designer during his two years in London, working for the Pallas design studio, producing a variety of designs for London Transport and Imperial Airways. These works were a continuation of the aesthetic he had developed in the 1920s of a montage of photography, texts and drawing to form the so-called “typofoto” (on this term see Moholy-Nagy 1923, 141; Moholy-Nagy 1925, 38). For London Transport, he created a series of posters that worked with lettering, numbers, drawings and sometimes the reproduction of tickets. Here we find Kurt Schwitters’s material collages of the 1940s pre-formulated, for which he repeatedly used London Transport tickets.
    Moholy-Nagy also created advertising material for Imperial Airways, the British airline founded in 1924. A brochure produced in 1936 shows the image of an aircraft in front of an oversized, wide-open eye. For an Imperial Airways advertising brochure, Moholy mounted a partial view of two globes on which the airline's flight routes on the African continent and as far as Australia can be traced. In 1934, Imperial had founded Qantas Empire Airways Limited together with Qantas and subsequently pushed ahead with the expansion of flight routes in the Asian region as far as Australia (Jackson 1995, 85). Moholy-Nagy alluded to this worldwide networking with his design.
    In 1936, Moholy-Nagy created window displays for Simpsons of Piccadilly department store, using rhodoid plastic and plywood (Carullo 2019, 36). Incidentally, the Reimann School, which had emigrated to London, introduced the subject of window dressing for its students at almost the same time. Moholy-Nagy also used rhodoid for his constructions such as Space Modulator Experiment, Aluminium 5 (1931/35, see Tsai 2009, 136). Materials, forms and concepts thus migrated from the commissioned works to the free works and back again.
    László Moholy-Nagy contributed directly to the international perception of modern British architecture with a film on the buildings designed by Berthold Lubetkin and his Tecton studio for London Zoo and its rural site at Whipsnade. Julian Huxley, the zoo's director at the time, was a supporter of émigré artists (Powers 2019, p. 116). Moholy-Nagy’s film New Architecture and the London Zoo was shown at the 1937 Modern Architecture in England exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
    In 1936, together with John Matthias, Moholy-Nagy made the documentary film Lobsters (1936), shot on the Sussex coast and featuring the sea creatures and the everyday lives of the fishermen, bringing hunted and hunters together through cinematic montage (Schouela 2019). In the same year, Moholy-Nagy contributed an experimental film sequence to the science fiction film Things to Come, based on a novel by H.G. Wells. The film was produced by the emigrated Hungarian filmmaker Alexander Korda. As Hattula Moholy-Nagy pointed out: "Unfortunately Moholy-Nagy's designs for the film, Things to Come (1936), were cut from the released version and one only sees glimpses of them in the city-building sequence." (Hattula Moholy-Nagy, Email to Burcu Dogramaci, 28.9.2021)
    This simultaneous work on different projects demanding different skills and technical knowledge continued throughout Moholy-Nagy’s photographic career. The London publisher John Miles Ltd commissioned Moholy-Nagy to take photographs for three books: The Street Markets of London (1936), Eton Portrait (1937) and An Oxford University Chest (1938). Interested in class and social conditions, László Moholy-Nagy set his book projects within the overarching theme of urban and/or social photography, employing experimental perspectives and decisive moments in more than one picture. Whereas Street Markets of London focuses on the sellers and buyers, Eton Portrait records the everyday life of an elite and An Oxford University Chest is the photographic story of a traditional university and the town where it is located.

    At the end of a year of intensive work, the solo exhibition László Moholy-Nagy. Paintings, Drawings, Constructions opened on 31 December 1936 at the London Gallery (28 Cork Street). Gropius gave the opening speech for the show, which brought together Moholy-Nagy’s free artistic work. The invitation card for the show was also designed by the artist. In 1937, Moholy-Nagy participated once again in a group exhibition at the London Gallery: the Exhibition of Constructive Art gathered abstract works by Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo, László Moholy-Nagy and others (Vinzent 2020, 5).
    Friends and colleagues came together on 9 March 1937 to send off Walter Gropius and his wife Ise Gropius with a Farewell Dinner. Both had decided to leave Britain for the United States. The “Bill of Fare” menu, designed by László Moholy-Nagy, included a toast, an alphabetically-arranged guest list and a portrait photo of Gropius smoking a cigar. Gropius was among the first of the group to move to the United States, where he continued his architectural practice at Harvard. László Moholy-Nagy, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy and their two children Hattula and Claudia (born 1936) left for Chicago in 1937, where he became director of the so called new bauhaus: The American School of Design had closed in 1938 and then reopened in 1939 as The School of Design in Chicago, which changed its name to The Institute of Design in 1944.
    In 1939, Moholy-Nagy’s book The New Vision. Fundamentals of Design, Painting, Sculpture, Architecture by Faber & Faber in London. Moholy-Nagy also kept in touch with his London friends and colleagues from Chicago, exchanging catalogues and news with Ben Nicholson (Moholy-Nagy 1937) and telling him about a planned lecture by Herbert Read at the new bauhaus (Moholy-Nagy 1946).

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  • László Moholy-Nagy, Bill of Fare, farewell dinner menu for Walter Gropius, London, March 1937, front page (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © László Moholy-Nagy).
    Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. (reissued 1972). Benjamin Blom, 1972, “Petticoat Lane: The Spectacle Man” and “Petticoat Lane: In a side street. Some Arabian visitors at a second-hand clothes stall” (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, their triplets and Hattula Moholy-Nagy at 7 Farm Walk, the London home of László and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, June 1936 (provided by The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
  • Benedetta, Mary. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. John Miles, 1936.

    Benedetta, Mary. The Street Markets of London (reissued 1972). Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. Benjamin Blom, 1972.

    Betjeman, John. An Oxford University Chest. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. John Miles, 1938.

    Carullo, Valeria. Moholy-Nagy in Britain 1935–1937. Lund Humphries, 2019.

    Daybelge, Leyla. “The Lawn Road Flats.” Insiders Outsiders. Refugees from Nazi Europe and their Contribution to British Visual Culture, edited by Monica Bohm-Duchen, Lund Humphries, 2019, pp. 165–171.

    Daybelge, Leyla, and Magnus Englund. Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain. Pavilion Books, 2019.

    Fergusson, Bernard. Eton Portrait. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. John Miles, 1937.

    Grieve, Alastair. Isokon. For ease, for ever. Isokon Plus, 2004.

    Jackson, A.S. Imperial airways and the first British airlines 1919–1940. Terence Dalton, 1995.

    MacLean, Caroline. Circles & Squares. The Lives & Art of the Hampstead Modernists. Bloomsbury, 2021.

    Moholy-Nagy, László. “Die neue Typographie.” Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar 1919–1923, Bauhausverlag, 1923, p. 141.

    Moholy-Nagy, László. Malerei Photographie Film. Albert Langen Verlag, 1925.

    Moholy-Nagy, László. Postcard to Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. Ben Nicholson Papers (Tate Library and Archive, London, stamped 20 April 1934), TGA 8717/1/2/2973.

    Moholy-Nagy, László. Letter to Ben Nicholson. Ben Nicholson Papers (Tate Library and Archive, London, 29 November 1937), TGA 8717/1/2/2978.

    Moholy-Nagy, László. The New Vision. Fundamentals of Design, Painting, Sculpture, Architecture (New Bauhaus Books, 1). Translated by Daphne M. Hoffmann, Faber & Faber, 1939.

    Moholy-Nagy, László. Letter to Ben Nicholson. Ben Nicholson Papers (Tate Library and Archive, London, 29 March 1946).

    Passuth, Krisztina. Moholy-Nagy. Thames & Hudson, 1985.

    Powers, Alan. Bauhaus goes West. Modern Art and Design in Britain and America. Thames & Hudson, 2019.

    Read, Herbert. “A New Humanism.” Architectural Review, October 1935, p. 151.

    Read, Herbert. “A Nest of Gentle Artists.” (1962) Art in Britain 1930–40 centred around Axis, Circle, Unit One, exh. cat. Marlborough Fine Art, London, 1965, pp. 7–8.

    Schouela, Jessica. “Biology, technology and vision in Moholy-Nagy’s ‘Lobsters’, 1936.” Studies in Documentary Film, vol. 13, no. 2, 2019, pp. 156–168. Taylor & Francis Online, doi: Accessed 9 April 2021.

    Senter, Terence. “Moholy-Nagy’s English Photography.” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 123, no. 944, November 1981, pp. 659–671. JSTOR, Accessed 9 March 2021.

    Senter, Terence. “László Moholy-Nagy: The Transitional Years.” Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World, edited by Achim Borchardt-Hume, exh. cat. Tate Modern, London, 2006, pp. 85–91.

    Tsai, Joyce. “Technikersatz: Zu den späten Bildern von László Moholy-Nagy.” László Moholy-Nagy. Retrospektive, exh. cat. Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am Main, 2009, pp. 136–138.

    Vinzent, Jutta. “The Making of Modern Art through Commercial Art
    Galleries in 1930s London: The London Gallery (1936 to 1950).” Visual Culture in Britain, vol. 21, no. 2, 2020. Taylor & Francis Online, doi: Accessed 9 March 2021.

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  • The Moholy-Nagy Foundation, Ann Arbor.

    Tate Library and Archive, London, Ben Nicholson Papers.

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  • My deepest thanks go to Bridget Gillies (University of East Anglia Archive) for supporting me with images from the Pritchard Papers and to Hattula Moholy-Nagy and Natalia Hug (The Moholy-Nagy Foundation), for giving me permission to reproduce works by László Moholy-Nagy.

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  • Burcu Dogramaci
  • London, GB (1935–1937).

  • 7 Farm Walk, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London NW11 (residence, 1935–1937).

  • London
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "László Moholy-Nagy." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 29-09-2021.
  • Otti Berger
    Textile DesignerWeaver

    The textile designer and weaver Otti Berger lived in exile in London in 1937/38, where she sought to open up a new field of activity.

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    Julian Huxley

    Julian Huxley was the director of London Zoo from 1935 to 1942 and worked closely with emigrant photographers, artists and architects, including Berthold Lubetkin, Erna Pinner and Wolf Suschitzky.

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    Margaret Leischner
    Textile Designer

    The designer Margaret Leischner lived in England from 1938, worked for textile and furniture companies, taught at the Royal College of Art and was honoured as Royal Designer for Industry.

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    Herbert Read
    Art HistorianArt CriticPoet

    The British art historian Herbert Read established himself as a central figure in the London artistic scene in the 1930s and was one of the outstanding supporters of exiled artists.

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    A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939

    Six years after her arrival in London, the photographer Lucia Moholy published her book A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939, on the occasion of the centenary of photography.

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    The Street Markets of London

    In 1936, émigré photographer László Moholy-Nagy realised The Street Markets of London together with the journalist Mary Benedetta, setting the book within the overarching theme of urban photography.

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    Farewell Dinner for Walter Gropius

    Friends and colleagues came together on 9 March 1937 to send off the architect Walter Gropius and his wife Ise Gropius, who had decided to leave for the United States.

    Word Count: 28

    Modern Art Gallery
    Art Gallery

    The Modern Art Gallery, founded by the émigré painter, sculptor and writer Jack Bilbo, was a forum for the presentation of modern art, specialising in the work of emigrant artists.

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    Faber & Faber
    Publishing House

    Faber & Faber shows the importance of publishing houses as supporters of contemporary art movements and of the contribution of emigrants, helping to popularise their art and artistic theories.

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    Isokon Company
    Architecture and Furniture Company

    The furniture design and architecture company Isokon was an important commissioner for emigrants such as Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy, Ernst Riess and Edith Tudor-Hart.

    Word Count: 27

    Kurt Schwitters

    The artist and poet Kurt Schwitters lived in London between 1941 and 1945, where he stood in contact to émigré and local artists, before moving to the Lake District.

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    Reimann School, London
    Art School

    The Reimann School in London opened in 1937 and was a branch of the Berlin Schule Reimann, training students in commercial art and industrial design.

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