Early life and education (1895–1922)
Moholy-Nagy was born László Weisz in Bácsborsód (Hungary), to a Jewish family. His mother's second cousin was the conductor Sir Georg Solti. László was the middle child of three surviving sons, but the family was soon abandoned by the Jewish father, Lipót Weisz.
The remainder of the family took protection and support from the maternal uncle, Gusztáv Nagy. The uncle was a lawyer, and sponsored the education of László and his younger brother, Ákos. In turn, László took the Magyar surname of his mentor. Later, he added “Moholy” to his surname, after the name of the town of Mohol (now part of Serbia) where he spent part of his boyhood in the family home nearby.
László attended a gymnasium school in the city of Szeged, which was the second-largest city in the country. Initially he wanted to become a writer or poet, and in 1911 some of his poems were published in local daily newspapers. Starting in 1913, he studied law at the University of Budapest.
In 1915 during World War I, he enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army as an artillery officer. In service, he also made crayon sketches, watercolors, and writings to document his wartime experiences. He was injured on the Russian Front in 1917, and convalesced in Budapest. While on leave and during convalescence, Moholy-Nagy became involved first with the journal Jelenkor (“The Present Age”), edited by Hevesy, and then with the “Activist” circle around Lajos Kassák’s journal Ma (“Today”).
After his discharge from the military in October 1918, he abandoned his law studies and attended the private art school of the Hungarian Fauve artist Róbert Berény. In 1918, he formally converted to the Hungarian Reformed Church; his godfather was his Roman Catholic university friend, the art critic Iván Hevesy. He was a supporter of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, declared early in 1919, though he assumed no official role in it.
After the defeat of the Communist regime in August, he withdrew to Szeged. An exhibition of his work was held there, before he left for Vienna around November 1919.
Moholy-Nagy moved to Berlin early in 1920, where he met photographer and writer Lucia Schulz; they married the next year.
In 1922, at an exhibition of his work for Der Sturm, he met Walter Gropius. That summer, he vacationed on the Rhone with Lucia, who introduced him to making photograms on light-sensitized paper. He also began sketching ideas for what would become his most well-known sculpture, the Light-Space Modulator.