THE ORIGIN OF THE MODERN COMIC STRIP
NEW YORK, HAMBURG, BERLIN, LIČGE AND PARIS
Born in Manhattan to German parents who were both musicians – his father, a violinist, and his mother, a pianist Feininger went to Germany to study music at the age of sixteen. Upon his arrival, however, he decided to switch to art school, studying first in Hamburg, and then in Berlin, Ličge and Paris. His artistic career began as a caricaturist, illustrator and cartoonist. At the turn of the twentieth century, he quickly became one of the best known caricaturists in Germany.
SETTLING IN AN UNSETTLED WORLD – PARIS, BERLIN
Despite a highly successful career as a cartoonist, at the age of thirty-six, Feininger abandoned illustrations for painting,
where the whimsical figures of his comic strips and illustrations continued to haunt his first works in oils.
The second gallery will be devoted to the critical period from 1907 to 1918, when Feininger the painter rapidly found himself among the avant-garde German Expressionist artists. Feininger’s discovery of Cubism in 1911 at the Salon des Indépendants in the French capital and his subsequent experiments and evolution in style coincided with the explosion of the Berlin art world. Invited to join the Die Brücke artists, he declined for fear that unveiling his new direction before it was fully formed would impede its realization. He showed with Der Blaue Reiter alongside Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc and was given a solo show at the avant-garde Berlin gallery Der Sturm in 1913. Feininger developed “Prism-ism,” a distinctive style with broken geometric planes that was linked formally to Orphism (developed by Robert Delaunay) and Italian Futurism, yet retained a characteristic lyricism. During the war years, Feininger stayed in Germany as an enemy alien, never having relinquished his American citizenship. Despite the profound effect the world conflict had on his psyche, his subject matter did not change dramatically during this era: he continued to depict the peace and quiet of Weimar and its surrounding villages. His art remained largely concerned with formal preoccupations and answered his lifelong yearning for harmony and oneness.
THE BAUHAUS (1919-1933): A SEARCH FOR HARMONY – WEIMAR, DESSAU, BERLIN
Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, the revolutionary art and design school, appointed Feininger as its first “master” in 1919. Feininger
stayed there until its closing in 1933 – the entire period of the Weimar Republic.
Feininger was commissioned by Gropius to design the cover of the Bauhaus manifesto. The Expressionist woodcut depicting a tripartite cathedral surrounded by shooting stars symbolized the idealistic unification of the fine arts, architecture and crafts. In 1923, the Bauhaus shifted its orientation to bring together art and industry, a philosophy that took shape with the arrival of Moholy-Nagy. This approach conflicted with Feininger’s convictions, yet he remained at the school, where he was revered as a teacher and head of the school’s graphics workshop, until it was closed by the Nazis in 1933.
Feininger’s tenure at the Bauhaus also piqued his interest in photography, a passion he shared with two sons, Andreas and T. Lux, who established reputations in their own right. In 1931, Feininger was given a large-scale retrospective at Berlin’s National Gallery.
AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (1934-1956): BERLIN, DEEP AND MANHATTAN
When the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, the situation became unbearable for Feininger and his Jewish wife, Julia. Some 400 of his
paintings were removed from German museums because of their modern style, which was considered “un-German” to the governing National Socialists. The Feininger family
moved to the United States in 1937, just months before the sadly famous exhibition Entartete Kunst [Degenerate Art] in Munich, which displayed twenty-four of Lyonel’s works.
Feininger did not return to the same New York he remembered from his childhood, and readjustment was difficult. It was two years before he began painting again. In his later paintings, form is reduced to a minimum, and his dramatically simplified compositions suggest a spiritual dimension. At the same time, Feininger continued in his final years to call upon the playful figurative vocabulary of his early illustrations to evoke harmony and innocence. Feininger’s 1944 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which travelled for two years to various American cities, established him as a major artist in his native country.