Lyonel Feininger

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Lyonel Feininger

The American painter and illustrator Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) was one of the leading artists of the German Bauhaus.

Lyonel Feininger was born on July 17, 1871, in New York, the son of German musicians who had emigrated to the United States. In 1887 he went to Germany to study music, but he decided on the visual arts and attended the Hamburg School of Arts and Crafts and the Berlin Academy of Arts until 1891. He then went to Paris and studied at the Académie Colarossi until 1893.

Feininger showed an outspoken talent for caricature and became a contributor to the German humorous periodicals Ulk and Fliegende Blätter in Berlin, where he lived from 1894 to 1906. He then returned to Paris and produced drawings for the Chicago Sunday Tribune and the Parisian paper Le Témoin. His caricatures, which were capricious and fantastic, had much in common with Paul Klee's early drawings.

In 1908 Feininger returned to Berlin. On a visit to Paris in 1911 he met Robert Delaunay and became acquainted with cubist painting. It was the constructive-ordering principle dominating cubism that attracted Feininger most and appealed to his personal taste. Cubism and the Section d'Or group had a decisive influence on the formation of his painting. His first cubist paintings date from 1912. His own style was representational and two-dimensional, rendered in a prismatic protocubist manner. Light played a predominant role in his work; the rays of light were used in both the structure and the coloring of the composition.

In 1913 the artists of the Blaue Reiter group invited Feininger to exhibit with them in Berlin's First German Autumn Salon. His friendships with Wassily Kandinsky, Klee, and Alexei von Jawlensky began at this time, and later, in 1924, the four artists founded the Blaue Vier group.

Feininger's personal style was established about 1915. Abstract elements, however, had appeared in his earlier compositions. In 1919 the architect Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus in Weimar, asked Feininger to teach painting there. Architecture, which was one of Feininger's main themes, came even more into the foreground during his Bauhaus period. The other main theme in the artist's oeuvre (both oils and watercolors) was seascapes with high skies and sailing boats. When the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925, Feininger left as a teacher but remained in contact with this institution until it closed in 1933. He exhibited with the Blaue Vier group from 1933 to 1936.

In 1937 Feininger returned to New York, where he died on Jan. 11, 1956. His late pictures have a pristine classical character. His art, with its emphasis on proportion, transparency, and serenity, is well balanced and harmonious.

Further Reading

The most comprehensive book on Feininger is Hans Hess, Lyonel Feininger (1961), which contains a works list and a good bibliography. Ernst Scheyer, Lyonel Feininger: Caricature and Fantasy (1964), is a detailed study of Feininger as a cartoonist. The Museum of Modern Art's Lyonel Feininger, edited by Dorothy C. Miller (1944), includes essays on Feininger and excerpts from his letters.

Additional Sources

Feininger, Lyonel, Lyonel Feininge, New York, Praeger 1974. □

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Lyonel Feininger (fī´nĬngər), 1871–1956, American painter and illustrator, b. New York City. Feininger studied painting in Berlin, Hamburg, and Paris. He was an illustrator and caricaturist for several periodicals in Paris and in Germany and had a weekly comic page (1906–7) in the Chicago Tribune before he turned to easel painting in 1907. He exhibited with the Blaue Reiter group and taught at the Bauhaus in Germany (1919–32). His canvases appeared in the so-called degenerate art exhibition of 1933. He returned permanently to the United States in 1937, taught at Mills College, and exhibited extensively. Feininger was fascinated by sailboats and skyscrapers, themes that appear in many of his oils and watercolors. He developed a delicate geometric style with interlocking translucent planes, suggestive of both light rays and architectural forms.

See his reminiscences, ed. by J. L. Ness (1974); definitive catalog of his graphic work by L. E. Prasse (1972); biographies by H. Hess (1961) and E. Schuyer (1964); study by T. L. Feininger (1965); The Comic Strip Art of Lyonel Feininger (1994), ed. by B. Blackbeard.

His eldest son, Andreas Feininger, 1906–99, was an American photographer. Born in Paris, he grew up in Germany, studied at the Bauhaus, and became a cabinetmaker and architect. Turning to photography in 1936, he moved to New York City in 1939. There he was a freelance photographer and on the staff (1943–62) of Life magazine. His best known photos are probably his compressed telephoto images of skyscrapers and streetscapes from the 1940s. He also took many pictures of natural objects such as shells, feathers, and bones. Feininger wrote more than 30 books, e.g., The Face of New York (1954).

See his illustrated autobiography (1986).

Lyonel's younger son, T(heodore) Lux Feininger, 1910–2011, was an American photographer and painter. Born in Berlin, he also studied at the Bauhaus and began taking photographs in the 1920s and painting in 1929. He moved to the United States in 1936. He is known for his simplified paintings of old-fashioned sailing vessels, his self portraits, and (from the 1960s on) for his semiabstract paintings in a style reminiscent of his father's. He returned to photography in the 1940s, creating images of ships, trains, and other means of transportation and New York City street scenes.

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Feininger, Lyonel (1871–1956) US painter. He left the USA for Europe in 1887 and became involved with cubism in 1912. He evolved a distinctive style of figurative scenes in straight-edged patterns of interconnecting planes, coloured to resemble prisms. He exhibited with the Blaue Reiter (1913) and taught at the Bauhaus (1919–33). In 1937 he returned to the USA and produced some of his best work, such as Dawn (1938).

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