Lyonel Feininger
Biography of Caricaturist, Cubist Painter, Bauhaus Instructor.
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Gaberndorf II
Franciscan Church (1924)
Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart.

Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956)

Contents

Biography
Early Works and Education
Takes Up Painting
Bauhaus Instructor
Degenerate Art
Collections


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Biography

Among the most versatile of early modern artists Lyonel Feininger achieved major success in the world of caricature art, in both Germany and America. He also excelled at fine art painting - mostly in the style of Cubism - as well as printmaking, teaching the latter discipline at the Bauhaus Design School (1919-33). In addition, as well as learning sculpture in Paris, he also practiced fine art photography, though mostly for friends. And if all this wasn't enough, his first love was music: he played the violin and piano, and composed a wide range of pieces for piano and organ. In later life he explored architectural painting, and continued to create art into his 80s. Two of his sons followed in his footsteps: Andreas Feininger (1906-99) became one of the leading photographers and writers on photography; while T.Lux Feininger (1910-2011) was a painter and photographer.

Early Works and Education

Born Lyonel Charles Feininger in New York to a German violinist father and his wife, an American singer, he grew up in New York until 1887 when he travelled to Germany in order to study music. As it happened, after arriving in Hamburg he changed his mind and turned to fine art instead. Between 1887 and 1893 he studied at the Arts and Crafts School in Hamburg; the Fine Arts Academy in Berlin, under Ernst Hancke; and the Colarossi Academy in Paris. The latter establishment was a progressive alternative to the prestigious but conservative Ecole des Beaux Arts.

In 1894 he started earning a living in graphic art - first, briefly, in illustration and then as a caricaturist. Such was his natural talent for drawing and sketching, that by the turn of the century he was Germany's foremost political cartoonist, and a regular well-paid caricaturist for several German and American publications. They included: Berliner Tageblatt, Humoristische Blatter, Das Narrenschiff, Harper's Round Table, Harper's Young People and others. In 1901, he married Clara Furst, daughter of the German artist Gustav Furst, with whom he had two daughters. Later, in 1908, he divorced and remarried. His second wife was Julia Berg, with whom he had several other children.

German art in the 19th century culminated in the Secession movement - a breaking away of young artists from official academies. The trend began with the Munich Secession (1892) - in which the city's progressive secessionist group, led by Franz von Stuck, soon eclipsed the official arts organization - followed by the Vienna Secession (1897) and then the Berlin Secession (1898). During the period 1901-1903, Feininger had a number of drawings on show at the annual exhibition of the Berlin Secession.

Takes Up Painting

In 1906, as one of Germany's top graphic artists, he was sought out by James Keeley editor of The Chicago Tribune - the leading newspaper in a city where 1 in 4 people were of German descent - and given a lucrative commission to produce comic strips for the Sunday edition of the paper. The money enabled Feininger to live in Paris for the next two years. It was during this period that he turned to oil painting. Three years later, in 1911, on a return visit to Paris, he encountered early Cubist painting, and - prompted by Robert Delaunay - began painting in a colourful style of Analytical Cubism, using overlapping planes of colour and intersecting rays of light to represent architectural subjects like churches and castles. Feininger's expressive style was itself an overlapping mixture of Orphism, Cubism and Rayonism, and so impressed Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc of Der Blaue Reiter group, that they asked Feininger to exhibit with them in 1913. Later, he also exhibited with other groups in the German Expressionism movement, including Die Blaue Vier, Die Brucke, the Novembergruppe, and Gruppe 1919. His first one-man show took place in 1917 at the Sturm Gallery in Berlin, owned by Herwarth Walden (1879-1941).

Bauhaus Instructor

After the war, Feininger was recruited by Walter Gropius (1883-1969) to join the teaching staff at the famous Bauhaus Design School, and became director of the printmaking workshop. (One of his woodcuts was printed on the cover of the Bauhaus manifesto.) He was the only teacher to remain on the staff during the entire lifetime of the school, serving under Gropius (director 1919-1927), Hannes Meyer (director 1927-1930), and Mies van der Rohe (director 1930-1933).

Degenerate Art

From 1933 onwards, the Nazi takeover made life extremely difficult for anyone associated with modern art in Germany. Like that of many other 20th century painters, Feininger's work was classified as "degenerate art" (entartete kunst) and in 1937 he was banned from practicing as a painter or caricaturist. Fortunately, by then, he and his family had returned to America, where they made a new life. Although he experienced some difficulty in adjusting to his new environment after half a century in Europe, in due course he settled down and found renewed motivation. In 1955 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A year later, he died at the age of 84.

Collections

Paintings, drawings and photographs by Lyonel Feininger can be seen in several of the world's best art museums, including: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; the Whitney Museum of American Art; Reynolds House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem; Worcester Art Museum, Mass; Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal; Museo Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Museum Folkwang, Essen; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; Bauhaus-Archive, Berlin; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; and many others.

 

• For biographies of other German-American artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more details of Cubist-style painting, see: Homepage.


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