Born in Bottrup, Germany, Joseph Albers initially worked as a schoolteacher in his home town from 1905-8. A change of direction led him to study first at the Royal Art School in Berlin (1913-1915), before moving on to the School of Arts and Crafts (1916-1919), the Munich Academy (1919-20) and the Bauhaus, Weimar (1920-3). In 1923 he was selected by Walter Gropius, the pioneering modern architect, to teach at the Bauhaus, educating students on typography, furniture design and basic design. Albers taught the likes of Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee at the Bauhaus on the principles of handicrafts.
With the closing of the Bauhaus in 1933, Albers emigrated to the USA with his wife, Anni, the famous textile designer, where they both taught at Black Mountain College in South Carolina (1933-49) alongside such luminaries as John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Willem de Kooning. Albers then became head of the Department of Design at Yale University, New Haven (1950-9). Whilst at Yale Albers began his most famous series Homage to the Square which formed part of his move towards geometric abstraction. Consisting of hundreds of prints and paintings, each work builds upon squares of different sizes and colours, exploring formal and chromatic relationships. In 1962, Albers was awarded a Graham Foundation Fellowship and an Honourary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Yale University, and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science in 1973. He lived and worked in New Haven until his death in 1976.