Chess Set, Model XVI


John T. Hume (born c. 1872)Josef Hartwig (1880–1955)
Chess set, model XVI
Designed 1924
Natural and stained pear
Box: 2⅛ x 4⅞ x 4⅞ inches
(5.4 x 12.4 x 12.4 cm)
Produced by Bauhaus, Weimar, Germany
Photo by Shane Culpepper, Tulsa, OK


In 1924, the ancient game of chess was updated by the Bauhaus wood workshop master Josef Hartwig. The Bauhaus School of Design at Dessau, Germany, was an experimental art school that proposed a radical new aesthetic that emphasized functional, machine-made work; it attempted to break the boundaries between the traditionally separated fields of architecture, fine arts, and design. Hartwig replaced figurative chessmen with geometric representations based on a cube, creating forms that were removed from the original game’s association with war. The form of each piece also suggests its movement on the chessboard. The shape of the knight, for example, suggests its L-shaped course. The game of chess appealed to twentieth-century artists, including Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Max Ernst, and others, sometimes as part of a private or public chess performance.