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Lyonel Feininger Photo

Lyonel Feininger

German-American Painter, Printmaker, Cartoonist, Photographer

Movements and Styles: Bauhaus, Cubism, Der Blaue Reiter, Modern Photography

Born: July 17, 1871 - New York City, NY

Died: January 13, 1956 - New York City, NY

Lyonel Feininger Timeline

Important Art by Lyonel Feininger

The below artworks are the most important by Lyonel Feininger - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Green Bridge (1909)
Artwork Images

Green Bridge (1909)

Artwork description & Analysis: With this painting, Feininger made a notable debut at the 1911 Salon des Indépendants in Paris, revealing a combination of his cartooning experience and avant-garde credentials. While this work depicts the "types" of people he had often caricatured, they are placed into a distorted architectural space that suggests Cubist faceting and Fauvist color. He combines these expressive elements to create an atmosphere of mysterious space and urban isolation. The large green bridge looms over a street lined with buildings painted in contrasting red, creating a sense of unease and tension. The figures on the street below, a somber group that includes workers, prostitutes, children, and a sailor, appear unaware that they are being watched from the bridge by a group of top-hatted men.

The work's non-descriptive use of color led the Salon's hanging committee to include Feininger's work in a room of Fauve paintings. According to one, admittedly apocryphal, story told by Robert Delaunay, when Matisse arrived to hang his work in the same room, he examined Feininger's entry for some time before leaving to "work over his painting before he would let it stand comparison." Whether this truly happened, Feininger's painting was admired in a number of contemporary reviews and he painted a second version in 1916, now in the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Oil on Canvas - Private Collection

Harbor Mole (1913)
Artwork Images

Harbor Mole (1913)

Artwork description & Analysis: Drawing on the Cubist faceting of forms, Feininger evokes the power of wind and water with this image of a brutal coastline. His linear style juxtaposes the gridded horizontals of the mole (another term for a pier or breakwater) and the verticals of the lighthouse with a series of dynamic diagonals to suggest a raging storm. While the majority of the canvas is monochromatic, like the Cubists, Feininger enlivens the central portion with reds and blues that pierce through the atmospheric ground. This balance of strong line and luminous color would prove characteristic of Feininger's paintings, bringing together elements of representation and abstraction, definition and evocation to create a dramatic harmony.

Seascapes and harborscapes were a repeating subject across the decades of Feininger's career. Many were inspired by his trips to the German coast, where he spent his summers, although his first inspiration came from the busy New York harbor; as a young boy, he drew the boats that passed by Lower Manhattan (and also enjoyed building model ships).

Oil on Canvas - Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, USA

Cathedral (1919)
Artwork Images

Cathedral (1919)

Artwork description & Analysis: Feininger's woodcut appeared on the cover of the Bauhaus manifesto, representing the utopian vision of the school with a "Cathedral of Socialism." Deliberately using the Gothic cathedral to reference its communal sense of spiritual vision, as well as the joint effort of artists and artisans, this image spoke to the unique formulation of the Bauhaus, which sought to bring together "arts" and "crafts." Although the school would turn towards a machine aesthetic in the 1920s, its founding was marked by an interest in spiritual harmony, represented not simply by the church, but with the integration of that building into a dynamic, cosmic space of brilliant and reflecting light. With its transparencies and angular structure, Feininger's cathedral reflects the influence of Bruno Taut's utopian glass architecture.

Early Bauhaus culture was inspired by the structure and community of medieval guilds, so Feininger's connection to the Gothic past asserted this influence. At the same time, his use of abstraction in the form of the cathedral made it undeniably modern. The Cubist fracturing of forms and Futurist dynamic force lines influenced the style of Feininger's woodcut, yet its execution was purposefully crude to evoke pre-industrial imperfections. Cubo-Expressionism combined elements from the most revolutionary fronts of the avant-garde. At the same time, the very format of the woodcut was old-fashioned and suggested a hand-rendered, painstaking process that connected to the middle ages, before more sophisticated printmaking techniques were developed. In both subject and style, this print echoed the spirit of the manifesto itself, which spoke to the need for social change and revolution as well as the training of artists and craftsmen for a new age of rebuilding. Feininger's blend of avant-garde and traditional influences created a model that was visually modern and yet conventional in its symbolism. This was a balance that would dominate Bauhaus ideology in its early years.

Woodcut - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Bauhaus (Dessau)/Night View of the Balconies of the Studio Building at the Bauhaus, Dessau (1929)
Artwork Images

Bauhaus (Dessau)/Night View of the Balconies of the Studio Building at the Bauhaus, Dessau (1929)

Artwork description & Analysis: Feininger stopped teaching when the Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau in 1926, but he continued his association with the school until it was forced to close. Although photography was not offered as a workshop or extracurricular activity, there was considerable interest in the medium, further encouraged by the 1923 arrival of photography innovator László Moholy-Nagy. Feininger's own sons, Andreas and Theodore Lux, were active photographers and installed a darkroom in the family's basement. Lux in particular made many memorable images of the Bauhaus that serve as a major part of the school's visual record to this day.

So, although Feininger did not exhibit his photographs during his lifetime, he began serious experimentation in 1928. In particular, he explored avant-garde techniques of framing and unusual vantage points, as well as night imagery and dislocating perspectives. This embrace of the "New Vision" for post-WWI photography united the technological culture of the Bauhaus with a utopian dream of fresh vision that would produce new paths of thinking.

This image of the Dessau Bauhaus studios captures two experimental threads: the unusual vantage point and nighttime lighting create a geometric pattern from the architecture of the balconies. In particular, the artificial light streaming from several windows is blocked from our direct view, but casts a brilliant highlight on the underside of the stark geometric balconies above, juxtaposing them with their dark and unlit neighbors. The metal railings of the balconies, along with their cast shadows stretch across the facade, create a linear contrast to the atmospheric lighting. This balance is similar to Feininger's painterly style, which also combined stark, dynamic lines with evocative color and brushwork.

Gelatin Silver Print - Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum



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Lyonel Feininger Photo

Related Art and Artists

Fate of the Animals (1913)

Fate of the Animals (1913)

Artist: Franz Marc

Artwork description & Analysis: The Fate of the Animals is a vision of annihilation as seen through the eyes of the animals. The sharp angles and jagged shapes of the composition convey Marc's more jaded view of the relationship between man and nature. The image serves as a premonition of the horrors of war. Indeed, Marc shows the world being utterly ripped apart. Fantasy is still an important feature in this work, but in this case the fantasy has turned dark and foreboding. Fires rain down from above and fallen trees jut out of the still hot embers of the underbrush. All of the animals are panicked, their faces and bodies contorted to express the terror of trying to escape their inescapable demise. Ultimately, this is an apocalyptic vision of the looming war. Despite the chaos and destruction of the work, Marc manages to create a balanced and ordered composition. A blue deer, symbolizing hope, stands in the center foreground, twisting away from the falling tree that threatens to crush it. That Marc chose to place this symbol of hope in the center foreground of the composition, suggests that he himself had a hopeful vision of the future. What's more, the fact that Marc borrowed from the Futurists in his painting style suggests that he had a positive view of the destruction he depicted. Since destruction was a necessary step before society could be rebuilt, this powerful image could be read as not only tragedy and decimation, but as progress.

Oil on canvas - Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland

Violin and Palette (1909)
Artwork Images

Violin and Palette (1909)

Movement: Cubism

Artist: Georges Braque

Artwork description & Analysis: By 1909, Picasso and Braque were collaborating, painting largely interior scenes that included references to music, such as musical instruments or sheet music. In this early example of Analytic Cubism, Braque was experimenting further with shallow spacing by reducing the color palette to neutral browns and grays that further flatten out the space. The piece is also indicative of Braque's attempts to show the same item from different points of view. Some shading is used to create an impression of bas-relief with the various geometric shapes seeming to overlap slightly. Musical instruments such as guitars, violins, and clarinets show up frequently in Cubist paintings, particularly in the works of Braque who trained as a musician. By relying on such repeated subject matter, the works also encourage the viewer to concentrate on the stylistic innovations of Cubism rather than on the specificity of the subject matter.

Oil on Canvas - Guggenheim, New York

Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany (1919-1925)

Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany (1919-1925)

Movement: Bauhaus

Artist: Walter Gropius

Artwork description & Analysis: Gropius's complex for the Bauhaus at Dessau has come to be seen as a landmark in modern, functionalist design. Although the design seems strongly unified from above, each element is clearly divided from the next, and on the ground it unfolds a wonderful succession of changing perspectives. The building consists of an asphalt tiled roof, steel framework, and reinforced concrete bricks to reduce noise and protect against the weather. In addition, a glass curtain wall – a feature that would come to be typical of modernist architecture - allows in ample quantities of light. Gropius created three wings that were arranged asymmetrically to connect different workshops and dormitories within the school. The asymmetry expressed the school's functionalist approach and yet retained an elegance that showed how beauty and practicality could be combined.

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