Updated: May 29, 2020
Born in in 1899, she was Ilse Frank when she met Walter Gropius in 1923 at a lecture about the bauhaus, just days before she was scheduled to be married. Needless to say, the wedding was called off. Ilse and Walter married that same year, with Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee as witnesses. Walter Gropius suggested that Ise was more “modern” than Ilse and she returned to the Dessau bauhaus as Ise Gropius. She flourished in the creative atmosphere and was transformed from a typical young woman into Mrs. bauhaus, as she later came to be known. As she said herself in an inteview in 1986, “The bauhaus became my second self. Once you became infected with it, it had effects on every aspect of your life.” (1)
Not surprisingly given their fourteen year age difference, Gropius' heavy workload as director of the bauhaus and management of his architecture practice, their marriage struggled at first in the 1930's. Ise and Herbert Bayer (the resident hottie at the bauhaus) embarked on a passionate affair for several years, even traveling together. Ise ultimately decided to end the affair and dedicate herself to her marriage but she never got over her feelings for Herbert Bayer. On her deathbed she wrote him multiple letters, longing to see him one last time.
Irene Bayer (Herbert Bayer's wife) had a somewhat different perspective and had this to say in 1938: "If I were confronted with a creature the likes of Mrs. Gropius again, and had to endure the humiliations and indignities again, I would kill myself and my child without hesitation." WOW. Walter and Ise at home in Lincoln, Ma. 1942
At Dessau she experimented with photography and was a free-lance journalist with many published articles under her belt. Her burgeoning career was cut short by the war and their immigration to America where it quickly became apparent that no magazine was interested in female journalists. The Atlantic Monthly dismissed her first and only attempt to write about working women in America. She began writing under Walter’s name and had no problem getting her work published. Ise became indespensable when they fled Germany, as she spoke fluent English and Walter spoke very little. With her movie star looks and command of the English language she was a powerful promoter of both her husband and the bauhaus. As her adopted daughter Ati commented, Ise was "my fathers essential work partner, serving as his international secretary, editor, translator, hostess and PR department." (2)
Like many women of this era, whose creative careers were curtailed or prevented, Ise Gropius funneled her creative impulses into her personal style. As Mrs. bauhaus, she carefully curated not only her wardrobe and fashion choices but also her entire lifestyle was a reflection of bauhaus aesthetics. She was known for her bold fashion and avant garde jewlery inspired by bauhaus designs.The stylish hat she is wearing in the glamour shot at the beginning of this post is actually a skein of yarn that she fashioned into the ultimate avant garde fashion accessory. She was determined to ensure Gropius’ legacy not only as a founder of the bauhaus but also as an American architect. She carefully preserved their house and its contents, donating it to Historic New England to ensure that it would become a museum. She initiated the annual "Grope -Fest" parties to celebrate Gropius' legacy which continued through 2019. In 1977 she was awarded the Cross of Merit by the then West German government and in 1979 she was made an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects.
Sources and Notes
1.Gropius, Ise (1986): Small But Perfect Things: A remembrance by Ise Gropius, Boston. 2. Elizabeth Otto & Patrick Rossler: bauhaus women: a global perspective. Herbert Press 2019
Breuer, Gerda & Annemarie Jaeggi (2008): Walter Gropius Amerikareise 1928 / Walter Gropius American Journey 1928, Wuppertal.
Gropius, Ise: Bauhaus-Tagebuch 1923–1928, unveröffentlichtes Typoskript, Nachlass Gropius, Bauhaus Archives Berlin.
Gropius Johansen, Ati. Ise Gropius. Boston Historic New England 2013
Gropius Johansen, Ati. Interview with Ise Gropius, Tonbandaufnahme, Bauhaus-Archives Berlin. (1980)
Katy Kelleher "The forgotten storey of Mrs. bauhaus" Artsy 2018