Lyonel Feininger

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Jan 14, 2023

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Lyonel Charles Adrian Feininger († January 13, 1956 ibid.) was a German-American painter, graphic artist and caricaturist. From 1909 he was a member of the Berlin Secession. With his work at the Bauhaus since 1919, he is one of the most important artists of Classical Modernism.

Feininger only came to painting at the age of 36. Before that, he had long worked as a commercial caricaturist for various German, French and U.S. newspapers and magazines. He subjected his work to a harsh self-critical examination and, starting from his caricatures, quickly developed a very distinctive painting style. In his paintings, objects are abstracted and creatively exaggerated. The strength and expression of Feininger's style achieved in this way influenced numerous contemporary artists and established his importance and success. In his works, Feininger often took up pictorial motifs and compositions from his own caricatures and sketches.

His drawings of small-town idylls made in Ribnitz and Damgarten in 1905, for example, have become famous, as have his pictures of churches and village centers in the Weimar region in Thuringia, where he repeatedly went for work and study visits between 1906 and 1937. The pictures are mostly named after the respective localities (Gelmeroda, Niedergrunstedt, Possendorf, Mellingen, Vollersroda, Tiefurt, Taubach, Gaberndorf, Oberweimar, Zottelstedt and others) and numbered consecutively.

Carl Léonell Feininger was born to two distinguished German-American musicians, concert violinist Karl Friedrich (later Charles) Feininger and pianist and singer Elizabeth Cecilia Lutz. In 1887, at the age of 16, Feininger first came to Germany to join his parents, who were on a concert tour in Europe. With their permission, he was allowed to attend the Hamburg School of Arts and Crafts. On October 1 of the following year, he passed the entrance exam to the Berlin Royal Academy of Arts. He began drawing for publishers and magazines at an early age. In 1892 he began studying at the Académie Colarossi in Paris, which had been founded by the Italian sculptor Filippo Colarossi. After seven months in Paris, he returned to Berlin in 1893, where he became a freelance illustrator and caricaturist for the magazines Harpers Young People, Humoristische Blätter, Ulk and die Lustigen Blätter.

In 1901 Feininger married the pianist Clara Fürst, a student of Artur Schnabel and sister of the painter Edmund Fürst. After meeting the artist Julia Berg, née Lilienfeld (1881-1970), in 1905, he separated from his wife Clara and his two daughters Leonore and Marianne. In February 1906 he visited Julia Berg in Weimar, where she was studying at the Grand Ducal School of Art. Together they traveled to Paris in July, where their son Andreas (1906-1999) was born. In July 1906, Feininger met Robert Delaunay and Henri Matisse in Paris. He contracted with the Chicago Sunday Tribune for two comic series, The Kin-der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie's World, now considered classics of the genre, but both were discontinued early. In 1908, Lyonel Feininger and Julia Berg married and settled in Berlin. They had two more sons, Laurence (1909-1976) and Theodore Lux (1910-2011). In 1909 he became a member of the Berlin Secession.

In 1911, six of Feininger's paintings were exhibited at the Paris Salon des Artistes Indépendants ("Salon of Independent Artists") on the Pont d'Alma. This was his first contact with Cubism. In 1912 the painter met the artists' group "Brücke" and produced his first architectural compositions.

Together with the artists of the "Blaue Reiter" he took part in the First German Autumn Salon at the Berlin gallery "Der Sturm" in 1913 at the invitation of Franz Marc. In 1914 Feininger produced an etching and prepared artistic models of railroads for industrial toy production. He also had an exhibition with, among others, Moritz Coschell at the Arnold Gallery in Dresden. After the outbreak of World War I, he returned to Berlin. Feininger's first solo exhibition opened on September 2, 1917, at the gallery "Der Sturm." On display were 45 paintings and 66 other works. Another solo exhibition was held in 1918 by the Galerie Neue Kunst Hans Goltz in Munich in October. In November of the same year Feininger joined the "November Group" initiated by Max Pechstein and César Klein and met Walter Gropius. In 1919 he was appointed by Gropius as head of the graphic workshop at the State Bauhaus in Weimar. In mid-August, Feininger moved with his family to Gutenbergstrasse 16 in Weimar. Following the holistic aspirations of the Bauhaus, he also devoted himself to music in 1921 and composed his first fugue.

Feininger enjoyed spending the summer months by the sea, first alone on Rügen (from 1892), later with his wife Julia and sons Andreas, Laurence and Theodore Lux on the island of Usedom, which he explored by bicycle from 1908 to 1921 from quarters in Heringsdorf, Neppermin and Benz and where he painted the St. Peter's Church in Benz several times, and from 1924 to 1935 in Deep on the Pomeranian Baltic coast near Kolberg. During his stays at the sea he made many sketches ("nature notes"), on whose motifs he repeatedly fell back in later works.

In the summer months of 1918 and 1919, due to travel restrictions for American citizens, Feininger traveled to Braunlage (Oberharz) through the mediation of the Berlin gallery owner Herwarth Walden and captured the town and its surroundings in a number of works - including St. Trinitatis Church, the Brunnenbach forester's lodge, and the mansion of the former glassworks. In the summer of 1918, he began the woodcut work in Braunlage, which was significant for his later work.

Feininger at the Bauhaus, involuntary end of his work in Germany

Feininger was appointed the first Bauhaus master by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919 when the State Bauhaus was founded. Initially, he was the head of the printing workshops until 1925. Feininger lived with his family from summer 1919 to summer 1926 at Gutenbergstrasse 16 in Weimar, a house that still stands today. In 1921, a portfolio of linocuts by Feininger was published as his first Bauhaus publication. In 1923 Feininger stayed in Erfurt. In New York, 47 paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints were exhibited at the Anderson Gallery: A Collection of Modern German Art. In 1924 Feininger, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky founded the exhibition association Die Blaue Vier. After the Bauhaus in Weimar had its funding cut by 50 percent in 1924 as a result of petitions from the Thuringian craftsmen and the German-Völkisch bloc in the Thuringian state parliament, it was able to be reestablished in Dessau in the spring of 1925. On July 30, 1926, Feininger and his family moved into one of the newly built master houses in Dessau. At the Bauhaus, Feininger had himself released from all teaching obligations at his own request. At Walter Gropius' insistence, he remained a "master" until 1932.

From 1929 to 1931, at the invitation of the city of Halle (Saale), he worked on a total of eleven expressionist views of the city, in particular of the Marktkirche, the so-called Cathedral and the Red Tower. For this purpose, he had a studio at his disposal in the gate tower of the Moritzburg. In 1931, the city purchased all 11 paintings and 29 drawings of this cycle for its art museum.

After the victory of the NSDAP in the local elections in Dessau in 1932, the Bauhaus left the city and settled in Berlin as a privately run school. Lyonel and Julia Feininger moved to Berlin-Siemensstadt in the same year. Thanks in part to the help of Quedlinburg art collector Hermann Klumpp, the couple was able to leave Nazi Germany for the United States on June 11, 1937, where Feininger worked as a freelance painter in New York.

During the National Socialist era, Feininger's works were officially considered "degenerate art". The National Socialists confiscated 378 works by the artist from public collections. A few months after his departure, they showed eight paintings (city views), one watercolor, and thirteen woodcuts at the Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich.

Feininger in New York

Feininger visited New York as early as 1936, taught at Mills College in Oakland during the summer months, and prepared to move to the United States. If he was considered an American painter in Germany, he was virtually unknown to the New York public after his return as a "German." "In the beginning I suffered greatly from the feeling of being a stranger In the summer of 1937 he taught again at Mills College and produced his first watercolors (Manhattan at Night), in which he dealt with New York. In 1939 he completed motifs of the Baltic Sea and Deep in Pomerania that he had already begun in Germany. A year later, he started a series of "Manhattan pictures" that focused on modern "skyscraper" architecture and street canyons. But for Feininger - although living in New York - the remembered motifs of his former homeland always remained an important pictorial theme. In 1944 he met Fernand Léger and exhibited for the first time - together with Marsden Hartley - a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1947 he was elected president of the Federation of American Painters and Sculptors, and a year before his death he was appointed a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

As a member of the Deutscher Künstlerbund, Feininger participated in the third annual exhibition at the Hamburg Kunsthalle in 1953 and also exhibited in Frankfurt, Baden-Baden and Düsseldorf in the following years until 1956.

Feininger died at the age of 84 in his apartment (235 East 22nd Street) in New York. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson (Westchester County, New York). His son Andreas Feininger became a well-known photographer in New York. His son Laurence Feininger (musicologist) died in 1976 in Freienfeld, Italy.

The world's only museum dedicated to the painter is located in the Harz Mountains in the World Heritage city of Quedlinburg. Here lived Hermann Klumpp, who had studied at the Bauhaus in Dessau from 1929 and became a friend of the Feiningers. Before Lyonel Feininger left Germany in June 1937, he left more than 60 paintings and more than 1000 works on paper in trust to his friend to save them from confiscation and destruction by the Nazis. After Lyonel and Julia Feininger's death, lengthy, complicated negotiations took place in the 1970s between the children's lawyers and the GDR authorities, resulting in nearly all of the paintings being returned to the sons. Ten remaining paintings as well as the works on paper remained in the possession of Hermann Klumpp, who donated them to the foundation of the Lyonel Feininger Gallery of his city Quedlinburg. In 1986, the personal museum dedicated to the painter was opened with the Dr. Hermann Klumpp Collection on permanent loan. Today, it holds the world's second largest collection of works by the artist. In 2019, with the establishment of the Lyonel Feininger Collection Armin Rühl Foundation, an important collection of early caricatures and comic drawings by Feininger was permanently bound to the museum.

The Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge (USA) hold the largest part of Lyonel Feininger's estate and thus the most extensive collection of his works.

Further Feininger collections can be found with the Harald Löbermann Collection in the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz (298 prints, drawings and watercolors from the period 1910 to 1955) as well as in the Kunstmuseum Moritzburg Halle (Saale), where three of the former eleven Halle pictures can be seen again today in the permanent collection presentation. In addition, there are numerous watercolors, drawings, sketches, prints and photographs by the artist. In the city of Halle (Saale), an audiowalk tracing Feininger's paintings through the historic old town was established in 2019.

Lyonel Feininger was a participant in documenta 1 (1955) and also posthumously in documenta III in 1964 in Kassel.

From 1921 Feininger also occupied himself with the composition of musical works. He wrote several fugues for organ, taking his cue from his model Johann Sebastian Bach.


  1. Lyonel Feininger
  2. Lyonel Feininger
  3. Thomas Fehling: Feininger Rundgang. Kunstverein Ribnitz-Damgarten e. V. 2017
  4. ^ [1]"Lyonel Feininger (Léonell Charles Feininger) is born in New York City on July 17th. He was the first child of the violinist Karl Feininger from Durlach in Baden (South West Germany) and the American singer Elizabeth Cecilia Feininger, born Lutz, who was also of German descent. "
  5. ^ Cooper, Philip. Cubism. London: Phaidon, 1995, p. 90. ISBN 0714832502
  6. ^ a b c Muir, Laura and Nathan Timpano. Lyonel Feininger: Photographs 1928-1939.
  7. ^ "Radtour: Auf Lyonel Feiningers Spuren über Usedom" [Bike tour: In the tracks of Lyonel Feininger via Usedom]. NDR (in German). 30 July 2020. Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  8. ^ "Deceased Members". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Archived from the original on July 26, 2011. Retrieved July 30, 2011.
  9. Cf. Achim Moeller, "Lyonel Feininger - Ville, villages et mer: Une introduction" in Anne Drouglazet et al., Lyonel Feininger - La ville et la mer, éd. Gourcuff Gradenigo & Musée Jenisch, Montreuil & Vevey, 2021, p. 15.
  10. Cf. Achim Moeller, "Lyonel Feininger - Ville, villages et mer: Une introduction" in Anne Drouglazet et al., Lyonel Feininger - La ville et la mer, op. cit., p. 15.
  11. a et b cf. Gilles Genty, "Les premières années de Feininger" in Anne Drouglazet et al., Lyonel Feininger - La ville et la mer, op. cit., p. 9.
  13. (en) Maurice Horn, « Wee Willie Winkie's World », dans The World Encyclopedia of Comics, New York, Chelsea House, 1976, 785 p. (ISBN 0877540306), p. 695.

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