Walter Dexel

“Dexel, Walter.”,

German painter, graphic designer, advertiser, and historian, Walter Dexel, was born on February 7th, 1890 in Munich, Germany. Dexel was a self-taught painter but eventually took private drawing classes, taught by H. Gröber, to sharpen the skills he learned by practicing himself at an early age. At the same time, from 1910 to 1914, Dexel studied art history under Heinrich Wölfflin and Fritz Burger, as well as painting, to further his art education. During his time in college, particularly in 1912 and 1913, Dexter took a study abroad trip to Italy where he painted the first picture of his career. At the end of this training in 1916, Dexel graduated from the university in Munich with a History of Art major. He then attended drawing schools in Munich, Jena, and Paris before receiving his doctorate in 1919 under Botho Gräf

Doctor Walter Dexel’s early work drew inspiration from Paul Cézanne, a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter. Dexel’s paintings were particularly influenced by Cézanne’s landscape paintings but his style later shifted to be reflective of other artists and movements. Moving away from the Impressionist style, Dexel’s work started reflecting art movements of his time, specifically Cubism and Expressionism. While still in school, Dexel held his first solo exhibition in 1914, at the “Galerie Dietzel” in Munich, Germany. This exhibit featured his paintings that were painted in a cubist style and showed the influences present during that time. Also, in 1914, Dexel studied the work of Lionel Finingr, a German-American painter, leading exponent of Expressionism, and Bauhaus artist. Finingr’s style influenced Dexel to paint simple compositions that were based on geometric elements and forms. In 1918, after the Second World War ended, Dexel soon started to head several other exhibits in Jena, with contemporary artists like German graphic designer, Heinrich Campendonk and Bauhaus illustrator, Moholy-Nagy.

Beginning in the 1920s, Dexel began to be influenced by another art movement called Constructivism, which he later became a prominent advocate for. He started created many paintings in this style and began using modern objects to create assorted and abstracted compositions. Dexter is most widely recognized by his Constructivist paintings and contribution to the movement. In 1921, Dexel grew his inner circle of close friends and influences to include Dutch De Stijl artist, Théo van Doesburg. He also expanded the collection of exhibits that he headed to include several at the Hewarth Walden’s Berlin gallery “der Sturm.” In the following years, Dexel joined many groups and branched out from painting to explore other mediums and broaden his array of specialties. In 1923, he joined the “November” group, with his friend Kurt Schwitters, a German artist and Da-daist. The “November” group was a group of German expressionist artists and architects that fought for radical artists to have a voice in social issues. This campaign lead Dexter to embrace his talents for advertising, as he joined the “new graphic artists cycle” in 1928.

Although Dexel began his artistic endeavors by painting, he began to master many other outlets in his career. He dabbled in advertising, commercial art, interior design, billboard design, and set design, and he became an important figure in graphic design. After originally campaigning for social issues during his time with the November group, Dexel started to invest in more social problems and became involved in the pursuit of practical solutions to modern living. In 1928, he published a book titled “Das Wohnhaus van Heute,” or “The House Today,” to talk about some of the social hitches he noted in modern life.  Although the book talks about issues that Dexel showed interest in from an early age himself, he wrote the book together with his wife, Grete Dexel. One of the points in his career that helped with his standing in graphic design was when Dexel lectured graphic design in Magdeburg, Germany at a type of vocational arts school called “Kunstgewerbeschule,” from 1928 to 1935. However, 1935 proved to be a hard year for Dexel as he was dismissed from his lecturer position by the German Nazi’s and he gave up painting after being intensely criticized by the Nazis. Dexel was so distraught by this that he didn’t began painting again until the 1960s.

After the war, Dexel took up a new interest that was unlike most of what he had done in the past. He became interested in a variety of household appliances and studied the history of their form. His extensive studies lead Dexel to compile a series called the “Historische Formensammlung,” or “Historical collection of forms,” in Braunschweig, as well eventually publish various books on form from 1942 to 1955. Finally returning to art in 1961, Dexel began to paint using form elements from the 1920s that reflected his initial Constructivist style. Dexter was under the influence of a reflective exhibition, “Der Sturm,” in an art gallery in Berlin that sparked his renewed passion for art and old techniques.

Walter Dexel is an interesting art figure because of the various styles he adopted and the many roles he picked up in his career. Dexel was a very prominent promoter of Constructivism, which was a movement in which assorted mechanical objects were combined into abstract mobile structural forms. Dexel included work related to this in the museum he directed in Braunshweig, Germany during the Second World War. Dexel’s life was shaped by the Second World War because the German Nazi’s had a huge impact on his self-worth and sense of purpose. After they dismissed him from his positon as a design lecturer, they also chastised his work which lead him to give up painting for almost 40 years. Dexel’s design life was hugely shaped by leading artists and movements that he drew inspiration from, like Impressionism, Expressionism, and Cubism. As a self-taught artist, Dexel looked to the work of other artists and major themes of his time to influence what he created and what he wanted to practice. Although he is an autodidact, Dexel was impressionable and humble because he allowed himself to grow by watching the style of other experienced artists.

Dexel is most prominently known for his abstract paintings that feature simple shapes, bright colors and interesting compositions. His most famous paintings, including his oil on canvas picture, “Segelboot,” or “Sailing Ship,” are dynamic, vibrant, and striking. Other designers should know about Walter Dexel because his artistic journey included a lot of exploration and unexpected paths. I think this serves to inspire designers who feel confused about their style or their goal as an artist because Dexel tried out many different methods, like impressionistic to abstracted, as well as many different interests, like set design to interior design. Dexel was not afraid to explore new things and go for the unexpected or what he was passionate about, which is something that every designer should try to do. It is also very interested that he took such a large break in his career but was able to thrive when he returned to the arts. One understated yet notable contributions of Dexel to the art world is his invention of the illuminated street sign in 1925. Walter Dexel was an artist that was not defined by one simple style or piece of work, but by several different methods and roles as an artist. Dying at the age of 83, on June 8th, 1973, Walter Dexel’s life and portfolio of work was inspirational and ever-changing throughout his lifetime.


“Walter Dexel Biography – Infos – Art Market.” Walter Dexel Biography – Infos – Art Market,

“Walter Dexel Biography.” Jacob Samuel,

“Dexel, Walter.”,