Sándor Bortnyik spent about two and a half years in Weimar (from 1922 to 1924). Even if not formally enrolled at the Bauhaus, he was close to the school through his many personal and professional friendships and involvement in theoretical and artistic debates, thus witnessing firsthand the Bauhaus’ development in the early years of its existence. After his return to Hungary in 1925, he slowly developed a desire to graft its rich curriculum and teaching methods onto the graphic design culture of Budapest, inspired in part by the increasing prominence of advertising as a mode of communication in Hungary—one outcome of the country’s developing a relatively affluent middle class during the second half of the 1920s. In 1928 Bortnyik decided to open a private school of art and design, which he ran until 1938 (although not much was heard from or about it after 1933). Inspired by the Bauhaus, he called his school Műhely, or “Workshop.”
Bortnyik was born in Marosvásárhely, Transylvania (today Târgu Mureș, Romania) and moved to Budapest in 1910 to work as a graphic artist, designing wrapping material for a perfumery. Three years later, he enrolled in a free school of art at which leading artists such as József Rippl-Rónai, Károly Kernstok, and János Vaszary were teaching. Between them they represented many of the leading modernist trends: art nouveau, expressionism, and fauve-like colorism respectively. Fellow students at this progressive school put him in contact with the liberal Galilei Circle and members of the Social Democratic Party. He met avant-garde poet, writer, and editor Lajos Kassák in 1916, collaborating with him on his radically progressive journals, A Tett (Action) and Ma (Today), for about a decade—first in Budapest and then in Vienna. As early as 1918 Bortnyik was already working in a revolutionary communist spirit. He became even more committed to communism during the short-lived Hungarian Commune of March – August 1919. After the defeat of the Commune, Bortnyik was forced to emigrate for fear of retaliation, as were Kassák’s entire circle, as well as a number of other left-leaning Hungarians. He arrived in Vienna in 1920, resuming his collaboration with Kassák, who published his pioneering album of geometric abstract compositions, Képarchitektúra (picture-architecture), in 1921. While Kassák embraced Dada and was open to various forms of anarchism in 1921, Bortnyik remained solidly committed to the Hungarian and the Soviet communist parties’ left-wing politics and concepts of art. This divergence generated tension between them, and in 1922 Bortnyik chose to leave Vienna.
At the suggestion of his friend, the future architect Farkas Molnár, who was currently studying at the Bauhaus, Bortnyik travelled to Berlin and Weimar. By December he had already managed to exhibit his abstract paintings in the Der Sturm Gallery. Settling in Weimar, he participated in many Bauhaus events and debates, witnessing one of the school’s most turbulent periods. The Bauhaus was in the crosshairs of the Weimar conservatives, and Dutch avant-garde artist Theo van Doesburg also targeted it's as-yet conspicuous expressionist spirit in a series of anti-Bauhaus classes; a number of students, wary of these developments, decamped for Italy. The position of Walter Gropius, then head of the school, was visibly weakening. Bortnyik witnessed all of these conflicts, and was also present for Gropius’s stark decision to restore the Bauhaus’s steady work and community, as well as his preparations for the decisive 1923 Bauhaus exhibition and Bauhaus Week. He saw, too, Gropius’s new slogan, “Art and technology: a new unity,” enlisted as the foundation for a renewal of the school’s collective spirit and progressive ethos. Being close to some of the Hungarians at the school—such as Gropius’s colleague, the architect Alfred Forbat, the musician and jack-of-all-trades Andor Weininger, aspiring architect Farkas Molnár, as well as Werner Graeff and Peter Röhl from van Doesburg’s circle—Bortnyik witnessed both the success and the shortcomings of these 1923 events. It was not lost on him that the international and nationwide (if not local) success of the Haus am Horn exhibition stemmed from the program laid out in the 1919 Bauhaus Manifesto, that appeal to artists to return to the workshop. Bortnyik’s paintings from those years reintroduced figurative representation in a rigid, geometricized style informed by the Neue Sachlichkeit movement. In a portrait of his wife painted in 1926, he represented the Dessau Bauhaus building, although he may have known it from photographs alone.