The love that drove Anni and Josef Albers
Our new book, Anni & Josef Albers, describes the couple’s courtship, honeymoon and their romantic challenges
The tale of Anni and Josef Albers is one of modernism's great love stories. Our new book Anni & Josef Albers describes their early lives, their initial meetings, their honeymoon romance, and the incredible life they forged for themselves, in both Europe and America.
The book, by Nicholas Fox Weber, the long-standing executive director of the Albers Foundation, is both an important art-history document and a touching biography, filled, as it is, with both personal recollections and meticulous research.
Fox Weber met the couple in 1971, when he was an art history student at Yale and Josef and Anni were 83 and 72-years-old respectively. He recalls how, at one their earliest meetings, Anni described the couple's early romantic difficulties.
“She asks me what I expect her parents’ reaction was when she presented this man eleven years her senior, an experimental artist who made assemblages out of broken glass shards and had never sold an artwork,” the author writes.
“He was from the other side of the tracks—the industrial Ruhr valley—and his family did not have an extra cent. They, and Josef, were devout Catholics. Anni’s parents were Jewish, even though her mother’s family, the Ullsteins—owners of what was then one of the largest publishing companies in the world, with planes solely devoted to transporting magazines to multiple cities—had had a mass family baptism, over a hundred members simultaneously becoming officially Protestant one Sunday at the end of the nineteenth century.
“Anni herself had been baptized and confirmed in Berlin’s most fashionable church, but she still thought of herself as Jewish, as did her parents. In short, the young man she was introducing as her future husband could not have been less like the type she was expected to marry.”
Indeed, when Anni first came across Josef at the Bauhaus in 1922, she doubted whether he would ever become her lover. She was, as Fox Weber writes, “fiercely attractive but had no awareness of that.
“At first, she did not imagine that the man she described as 'a lean, half-starved Westphalian with irresistible blond bangs' had a romantic interest in her, and she considered herself a loner and outsider at the institution where she was yet to be admitted. But Josef aided Anni with some of the basic exercises in paper folding so that she could have a better chance on the second go-around.
“This time she was admitted. She did not know that the man, eleven years her senior, who had helped her so patiently had fallen in love with her.”
When love did blossom, and the couple became engaged, a series of difficulties and challenges lay ahead. “In mid-May 1925, Josef wrote Franz Perdekamp, now married to a woman who had been a friend of Josef’s in Munich, that he had ‘entered... the haven of marital bliss.’
“Following the wedding in a Catholic church (to suit Josef, but causing Anni’s brother, a devout Protestant, to attend only the luncheon afterward), with the only guests Anni’s immediate family, Josef’s anti-Semitic father absent, the newlyweds had a couple of days in a luxurious hotel in Dresden. Upon marriage, the new bride happily took her husband’s last name; this was when she also reduced Annelise Elsa Frieda to the concise, waste-free Bauhaus-style Anni.”
“Josef sent Perdekamp a postcard of the Hotel Bellevue, calling it their ‘Lucky Ship,’ and writing they needed to get back to the Bauhaus for the term start. He signed off ‘Best Jupp / Best Wife.’ That summer, the newlyweds honeymooned in Florence.”
This honeymoon, though leisurely, influenced the couple’s work profoundly. ”Josef attributed the marked similarity of what they began to produce on their return to Dessau as a result of their shared excitement over what they saw in Florence on their honeymoon, which they took in the summer following their marriage. The geometric facades of Romanesque churches like Santa Croce and of Giotto’s bell tower next to the Duomo moved them both deeply.” It was, in short, the beginning of a beautiful partnership.
To read more about their life together and the art they made, order a copy of Anni & Josef Albers here.