Friday, August 13, 2010

Lyonel Feininger

 Andreas Feininger, Portrait of Father Lyonel, 1951

Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) was born in New York City. He was the first child of the violinist Karl Feininger from Durlach in Baden (South West Germany) and the singer Elizabeth Cecilia Feininger, born Lutz, who also was of German descent. At age nine, Lyonel received violin lessons from his father but is more interested in drawing and building model ships. Lyonel is fascinated by steamboats and locomotives.

Lyonel Feininger, The Green Bridge II, 1916

In 1888, Feininger moved to Berlin where he had been accepted at the Königliche Akademie. (Imperial Academy of Art). He attended the classes of the painter Ernst Hancke and started to work on caricatures. In 1892, he moved to Paris for six months to visit the art school of the Italian sculptor Filippo Colarossi. After his return to Berlin, he continued to work as a caricaturist for various German and American journals, including Harper’s Round Table, Humoristische Blätter, Das Narrenschiff, BerlinerTageblatt and Ulk.

 Lyonel Feininger, The Kin-der-Kids, The Chicago Sunday Tribune, April 29, 1906

In 1901, Feininger married Clara Fürst, daughter of the painter Gustav Fürst. She became the mother of his daughters Lore (1901) and Marianne (1902). He was represented with drawings at the exhibitions of the annual Berlin Secession in the years 1901 through 1903, and one year later the Great Berlin Art Exhibition (Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung) included 13 of his caricatures. In 1905, Feininger met Julia Berg, born Lilienfeld. Both fell in love and separated from their respective partners. The same year, Feininger was commissioned by the Chicago Sunday Tribune to do two series of comic strips: The Kin-der-Kids and Wee-Willie Winkie’s World. You can see a selection of these here.

Lyonel Feininger, The White Man, 1907

During 1906 Feininger and Julia stayed in Paris, where he again took classes at Colarossi’s studio and did many sketches of Parisian scenes. He frequented the Café du Dome, a hangout for German artist and students of Henri Matisse. Their first son, Andreas Feininger, who was later to become a renowned photographer, was born in December. After their stay in Paris, the family moved to Berlin-Zehlendorf, where they lived until 1919. Feininger executed his first painting, a still life, in 1907. Landscapes and cityscapes populated with giant figures followed. At the same time he continued with his magazine caricatures, and began to create his famous Mummenschanz (Carnival) paintings.

 Lyonel Feininger, Carnival, 1911

Feininger became a member of the Berlin Secession in 1909 and showed drawings at their exhibition. Laurence Feininger was born in April, followed by Theodore Lux Feininger in June of 1910. Laurence later became a musicologist, whereas T. Lux inherited his father's fascination for steamboats and became a painter. (You can see a nice selection of T. Lux's work at Moeller Gallery). In 1911, Feininger exhibited six paintings in the Salon des Indépendents where he got to know Robert Delaunay. French Cubism left a deep impression on him. He also becomes acquainted with the expressionist group Die Brücke, and his friendship with Alfred Kubin begins.

  Lyonel Feininger, Uprising, 1910

In 1913, Feininger rented a studio in Weimar. Walking and biking he explored the villages surrounding Weimar, including Gelmeroda, Mellingen and Niedergrünstedt. Sketches from these places will be his most important sources for future paintings. For the first time, he depicted the church of Gelmeroda in an oil painting (below). It became a recurrent motif in his work, featuring in numerous drawings and prints and in thirteen oil paintings ranging in date from 1913 to 1936. Although the church carried a symbolic meaning in Feininger's work, its architectural form also provided an ideal motif for his interest in geometric compositions. 

 Lyonel Feininger, Gelmeroda III, 1913

Also in 1913, Feininger participated at the Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon of Herwarth Walden's gallery Der Sturm in Berlin. After the outbreak of the First World War, especially after the USA declared war on  Germany in 1917, Feininger (who was still an US citizen) experienced great difficulties in Germany. After the war, Feininger became a member of the Novembergruppe, a radical artist group, and also joined the Dresden Secessionists, founded by Otto Dix and Conrad Felixmüller.

 Lyonel Feininger, Cathedral of Socialism, 1919

In 1919, Walter Gropius invited Feininger to teach at the newly founded Bauhaus in Weimar. There he was appointed "Meister der Form" (Master of the Form) and artistic director of the print workshop. He created the title page for the Bauhaus Manifesto, The Cathedral of Socialism (above). For the first publication of the Bauhaus, in 1921, he created a portfolio of twelve woodcuts. The same year he composed a fugue, and by 1928 will have composed another twelve. In 1920, Feininger left Berlin for Weimar, and had his first show in a museum, the Anger-Museum in Erfurt.

Lyonel Feininger, Lady in Mauve, 1922

The Detroit Institute of the Arts acquired one of Feininger's paintings (Raddampfer II) in 1921. His notoriety in America continued to grow thanks to his inclusion in the group "The Blue Four" along with Paul Klee, Alexej von Jawlensky and Wassily Kandinsky. In 1925, the group had its first exhibition in New York. The next year, the Bauhaus moved to its splendid new buildings in Dessau and the Feiningers followed. In 1927, Alfred Barr Jr., the founding director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, visited Feininger in Dessau. He was then represented with seven works in MoMA's 1929 show, "Nineteen Living American Artists". Also in 1929, Feininger was commissioned by the city of Halle to paint its most important landmarks. He moved to a studio at Halle's Moritzburg, where he produced eleven paintings within the next two years (which were later purchased by Halle's museum, which is today the Stiftung Moritzburg).

Lyonel Feininger, The Dome in Halle, 1930

Feininger's fame in Germany reached its peak in 1931: The Folkwang-Museum in Essen organized a show in honor of his 60th birthday. The show then traveled to the Berlin National Gallery. It contained 72 paintings as well as many watercolors and drawings. Only one year later, The Bauhaus in Dessau was closed by the local Nazis government, and the Feininger's moved back to Berlin. In 1935, in a letter from Karl Schmidt-Rottluff of March 24, Feininger learned that his work would be judged that day as “Degenerate Art” by the Nazi regime. The year 1936 was spent in the United States where Feininger taught a summer class at San Diego's Mills College. 

San Francisco Examiner (1st November 1925): Galka Scheyer, Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Alexej Jawlensky (left to right)

The situation in Germany became more and more unbearable and potentially perilous as Julia Feininger was of Jewish descent. A second invitation to teach at Mills College expediated Feininger’s decision to leave Germany after 50 years and to immigrate to America. He and his family left Germany and arrived in New York in June of 1937. They moved to an apartment on East 22nd Street, where Feininger would live the remainder of his life. Back in Germany, more than 400 works of his were confiscated from museums, and 19 were shown at the traveling exhibition “Degenerate Art”.

 Lyonel Feininger, Storm Brewing, 1939

In New York, Skyscrapers became one of Feininger's new motifs. Various exhibitions and prizes helped to give him exposure and fame in America. In 1942, he was awarded the Acquisition prize for Gelmeroda XIII at the "Artists for Victory Exhibition" at the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Two years later, he had a large retrospective exhibition with Marsden Hartley (whom he knew from Germany) at MoMA. In 1947, Feininger was elected president of the Federation of American Painters and Sculptors. Four years later, he celebrated his 80th birthday in Walter Gropius’ house in South Lincoln, Massachusetts. On January 13th,1956 Feininger passed away in his New York apartment. You can see a timeline of his works in my Flickr account.



  2. With Lyonel Feininger on tour in germany