Lyonel Feininger

Lyonel Feininger



We were walking about central Qeudlinburg, a few years after the wall came down, and happen upon the Lyonel Feininger Gallery, a tidy modern  building behind an older entry way. All I remembered at the time about Feininger was that he was a member of the Bauhaus. I was sure we had encountered his work in other galleries and museums, but nothing popped into mind. Luckily we decided to take a look inside. One Lyonel Feininger painting and you think, poster art, but rooms full of his work make a wonderful impression; one work builds on the next, like movements in a symphony. To make that point here are a few works gathered from different galleries and, for background, a bit about the artist.


Lyonel feininger gallery

Feininger was a German American Cubist and Expressionist artist. He began his career as a musician, then as cartoonist for various newspapers and magazines in both the US and Germany, but switched to working as a fine artist at the age of 36. In 1919 Walter Gropius invited Feininger to the Bauhaus, where he taught graphic art and painting until 1926.

With Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Alexej von Jawlensky they founded the group "Die Blauen Vier" in 1924.  In 1931 there was a first comprehensive retrospective at the Kronprinzen-Palais in Berlin, where Feininger moved in 1933.

When the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, the situation became difficult for Feininger and his wife, as both were partly Jewish. The Nazi Party declared his work "degenerate."  The Feiningers moved to America in 1936 and he taught at Mills College in California before returning to New York.

 Feininger was influenced by Henri Bergson's theory of Duration, which concerns time and consciousness. Briefly stated, time eludes mathematics and science, for when we attempt to measure a moment, it is gone. We can measure an immobile, complete line, whereas time is mobile and incomplete. Duration is ineffable and can only be shown indirectly through incomplete images: time can only be grasped through the intuition of an artistic imagination. Feininger's incorporation of Bergson's ideas into his art come through well in the Gelmeroda series.

Feininger first drew the church at Gelmeroda, a small village near Weimar, in 1906. It became a recurrent motif in his work, featured in numerous drawings and prints and in thirteen oil paintings ranging from 1913 to 1936. Three paintings are shown here, illustrating Feininger's talent and Bergson's Duration theory.


Gelmeroda III 1913                          Gelmeroda VIII  1921  


Gelmeroda XIII  1936


His technique of employing intersecting planes of light works wonderfully with his sailboats. For Feininger, abstract art was a way of transfiguring and redeeming experience, the way Bach's fugues do. He sought to reproduce the structure of Bach's fugues visually. When asked by an interviewer which artist most influenced him, Feininger replied, "Bach."

 His abstractions are also in his words, "world-enraptured transfigurations." Bryan Gilliam wrote, Feininger "adopted his father's metaphysical notions of music as a meta-art, a healing space where an imperfect human soul, failed by visual expression, coils its way in sound to peace and calm. "


sailing boats

Sail Boats, 1929




mid ocean

Mid Ocean, 1937, Art Museum of Saxony


                           Regler Church Erfurt, 1930

photo Finally, here is a 1951 photo of Feininger (left) in Central Park, New York