Lyonel Feininger, Self-Portrait (Selbstbildnis), 1915. Oil on canvas, 100.3 × 80 cm. Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston BF.1979.15m © Lyonel Feininger Family, LLC./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

An American-German-American Artist at the Edge of the World

Lyonel Feininger, Carnival in Arcueil, 1911. Oil on canvas, (104.8 × 95.9 cm. Art Institute of Chicago; Joseph Winterbotham Collection 1990.119, © Lyonel Feininger Family, LLC./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photograph © The Art Institute of Chicago.

Lyonel Feininger, Architecture II (The Man from Potin) [Architektur II], 1921. Oil on canvas, 101 × 80.5 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, © Lyonel Feininger Family, LLC./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photograph © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

Lyonel Feininger, Lady in Mauve, 1922. Oil on canvas, 100.5 × 80 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, © Lyonel Feininger Family, LLC./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

 

Whitney Museum of American Art
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Lyonel Feininger: At the Edge of the World
June 30–October 16, 2011

Lyonel Feininger has long been recognized as a major figure of the Bauhaus, renowned for his romantic, crystalline depictions of architecture and the Baltic Sea. Yet the range and diversity of his achievement are less well known. Lyonel Feininger: At the Edge of the World, the artist’s first retrospective in the United States in 45 years, is the first ever to incorporate the full breadth of his art by integrating his well-known oils with his political caricatures and pioneering Chicago Sunday Tribune comic strips; his figurative German Expressionist compositions; his architectural photographs of Bauhaus and New York subjects; his miniature hand-carved, painted wooden figures and buildings, known as City at the Edge of the World; and his ethereal late paintings of New York City. Curated by Barbara Haskell with the assistance of Sasha Nicholas, the exhibition debuts at the Whitney Museum of American Art and travels to Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, January 16-May 13, 2012.

Born and raised in New York City, Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) moved at the age of 16 to Germany to study music. Instead, he became a caricaturist and eventually a leading member of the German Expressionist groups Die Brücke and Die Blaue Reiter and, later, the Bauhaus. In the late 1930s, when the Nazi campaign against modern art necessitated his return to New York after an absence of 50 years, his marriage of abstraction and recognizable imagery made him a beloved artist in the United States.

Having spent 50 years of his life in Germany, Feininger is most often considered a German artist. This exhibition and its accompanying catalogue illuminate his dual national loyalties and their reverberations in his art. As Haskell notes in her catalogue essay: “(Feininger’s) complex and contradictory allegiances — to American ingenuity and lack of pretension on the one hand, and to German respect for tradition and learning on the other — rendered him an outsider in both countries. Always yearning for one world while living in the other, he never stopped longing for the ‘lost happiness’ of his childhood."

Before he began to paint in 1907, at the age of 36, Feininger had built a career as one of Germany's most successful caricaturists. When he turned to painting, he fused the whimsical figuration of his comic strips and illustrations with the high-keyed color of German Expressionist painting. Just at the moment that Feininger's oils began to earn him widespread recognition, World War I broke out. He spent the war in Germany as an enemy alien, never having relinquished his American citizenship. In 1919, Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, appointed Feininger as the school's first professor and commissioned him to design the cover of the Bauhaus manifesto. Feininger's expressionist woodcut, depicting a tripartite cathedral surrounded by shooting stars, symbolized the school's idealistic unification of fine art, architecture, and crafts. Feininger remained at the Bauhaus until it was closed by the Nazis in 1933, revered as a teacher and head of the school's graphics workshop. The monumental compositions of architectural and seascape subjects that he produced at the Bauhaus gained him national renown, culminating in his receipt in 1931 of Germany's highest honor for an artist: a large-scale retrospective at Berlin's National Gallery.

When the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, the situation became unbearable for Feininger and his wife, who was Jewish. They moved to America in 1937, just months before his work was featured in the Nazi's infamous Degenerate Art exhibition. Readjusting to the changed landscape of New York was difficult after such a long absence; not until 1939 did Feininger begin painting again. In America, as in Germany, he employed geometric forms to invest the modern world with a secular spirituality. Art, for him, was a "path to the intangibly Divine,” a way of expressing what he called the “glory there is in Creation." At the same time, Feininger continued in his last years to call upon the playful figurative vocabulary of his early illustrations and comics to evoke the harmony and innocence of childhood. Feininger's 1944 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, which traveled for two years to major American cities, established him as a major artist in his native country during his final years.

Lyonel Feininger, In a Village Near Paris (Street in Paris, Pink Sky), 1909. Oil on canvas, 101 × 81.3 cm. University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City; gift of Owen and Leone Elliott 1968.15, © Lyonel Feininger Family, LLC./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Lyonel Feininger, A Group of Houses and Figures, c. 1949. Painted wood, dimensions variable. Art Institute of Chicago; Bequest of Maxine Kunstadter 1978.411, © Lyonel Feininger Family, LLC./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photograph © The Art Institute of Chicago.

 

Lyonel Feininger, Untitled (Four Figures), 1935. Black ink and watercolor on cream laid paper, 30,3 x 23,3 cm. Harvard Art Museums/ Busch-Reisinger Museum, Bequest of William S. Liebermann, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: Katya Kallsen, courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lyonel Feininger, Big News!, January 1, 1909. Black ink, charcoal, and colored pencil on cream laid paper, 24 x 30,7 cm. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Bequest of William S. Liebermann, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: Katya Kallsen, courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lyonel Feininger, Untitled (Lux Feininger deep en der Regal), 1932, Gelatin silver print, 12.7 x 17.7 cm, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Gift of T. Lux Feininger, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011, Photo courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lyonel Feininger, Works on Paper from Harvard Collections

Lyonel Feininger, Bicycle Race, 1912. Charcoal and black ink on cream laid paper, 24 x 32,1 cm. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Bequest of William S. Liebermann, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: Katya Kallsen, courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lyonel Feininger, Untitled (Night View of Trees and Streetlamp, Burgküh-nauer Allee, Dessau), 1928. Gelatin silver print, 17,7 x 23,7 cm. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Gift of T. Lux Feininger, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lyonel Feininger, Bauhaus, March 26, 1929. Gelatin silver print, 17,9 x 24 cm. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of T. Lux Feininger, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: Katya Kallsen, courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lyonel Feininger, Drunk with Beauty, 1932. Gelatin silver print, 17,9 x 23,9 cm. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Gift of T. Lux Feininger, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lyonel Feininger, Untitled (Street Scene, Double Exposure, Halle), 1929-30. Gelatin silver print, 17,8 x 23,7 cm. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Gift of T. Lux Feininger, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lyonel Feininger, Neubrandenburg Town Hall III, April 14, 1923. Black ink and charcoal on beige wove paper, 27,8 x 35,9 cm. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Bequest of William S. Liebermann, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: Katya Kallsen, courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.

 

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Feininger from Harvard,
Drawings, Watercolours, and Photographs

June 2-July 17, 2011

This dual exhibition of partly unknown works by the German-American artist Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) provides an overview of Feininger’s graphic œuvre as well as of his photographic output.

The show was compiled by the Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum. The Harvard Art Museums own the most extensive holdings of the artist’s works. A selection of some 80 of the most beautiful drawings and watercolours has been made from the William S. Lieberman Bequest, donated by the former curator of the Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, William S. Lieberman (1924-2005), that comprises more than 400 works by the artist. These give an overview of Feininger’s works on paper and his artistic development.

The drawings and watercolours exhibited here range from Feininger’s early days in the 1890s and his stay in Paris before World War I, to the time he was working at the Bauhaus up until his final creative period in exile in the USA. The spectrum of his subject matter extends from early studies of nature to caricatures and the grotesque, from his preoccupation with motifs of villages and churches from the Middle Ages, especially in Thuringia and along Baltic coast, to ships at sea, beachscapes and atmospheric cloud formations. In addition, three paintings by the artist dating from between 1912 and 1926 highlight Feininger’s early deliberations on Cubism and clearly show his increasing tendency towards adopting architectural and geometrical forms.

A separate part of the exhibition is devoted to the artist’s much less known work: his photography. A representative selection of approx. 80 photographs from between 1928-1939, largely from the holdings of the Houghton Library at Harvard University and supplemented by loans from the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin and the Moritzburg Foundation in Halle, among others, is to be shown. The photographs date predominantly from Feininger’s time at the Bauhaus in Dessau, when he experimented with this medium for the first time, until the first few years of his exile in America. Feininger’s main interest was the effects of light and shadow, nocturnal moods with artificial lighting, reflections on wet roads or shop windows, as well as architectural motifs and street scenes. Experiments with double exposures, blurring and contrasting light led to remarkable alienating effects. The photos in the exhibition allow Lyonel Feininger to be re-discovered as a photographer of the modern age with a pronounced artistic standard and standing, while his son, Andreas, already enjoys the status of an internationally acclaimed photographer.

Lyonel Feininger, Untitled (Village with Church, probably Umpferstedt) January 9, 1914. Colored pencil on cream wove paper, 20 x 16 cm. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Bequest of William S. Liebermann, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: Katya Kallsen, courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lyonel Feininger, Untitled (Unfinished Painting in Studio, Halle), 1931. Gelatin silver print, 23,7 x 17,7 cm. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Gift of T. Lux Feininger, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lyonel Feininger, Untitled (Second Avenue El from Window of 235 East 22nd Street, New York), 1939. Gelatin silver print, 26,6 x 17 cm. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Gift of T. Lux Feininger, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College..

Lyonel Feininger, Feux Follets, 1940. Watercolor and black ink on cream laid paper, edges taped, 29,3 x 39,1 cm. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Bequest of William S. Liebermann, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: Katya Kallsen, courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lyonel Feininger, Untitled (Ghosties), c. 1954. Black ink and watercolour pencil on white paper, 10,9 x 13,7 cm. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Bequest of William S. Liebermann, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011; Photo: Katya Kallsen, courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College.