LYONEL FEININGER

by Kathy Zimmerer



"Possendorf," o/c, 19 4/5 x 23 3/5", 1942.



"Hugellandschaft," watercolor/pen/ink,
14 x 62 cm, 1939. Preparatory study
for World Fair murals.

(Leslie Sacks Fine Art, West Los Angeles) In an intimate but very complete exhibition of Lyonel Feininger's works from 1919 through 1948, oils, watercolors and woodcuts by this intriguing artist offer a tantalizing glimpse of his unique cubist vision.

Feininger was born in New York City, son of concert violinist Carl Feininger. Feininger fils remembered growing up in an atmosphere of music that continued to influence his art throughout his life. He also absorbed the cacophony of images that made up the urban world of New York. He was mesmerized by the beauty and power of the trains, and on trips to the Hudson River he was fascinated by paddle steamboats, schooners and yachts. In this rich environment Feininger absorbed what became constant leitmotifs in the art of his maturity.

In 1887, he left for Germany to study music, but within a year decided to study art in Berlin. By 1919, he was invited by Walter Gropius to join the staff of the Bauhaus, which, of course, was to become one of the most influential design schools in the world. Feininger left only when Hitler closed it in 1933. Like the art of Bauhaus colleagues Paul Klee and Wasily Kandinsky, Feininger's work was always unique in its refinement and use of fantasy. During the 1920's he exhibited in America under the umbrella of Galka Scheyer's Blue Four.

His unique watercolors of clipper ships--American Clipper [1942] and Abraham Rydberg [1934]--are a pleasure to behold. In the former, Feininger shapes the image of the ship through glowing planes of color. Luminous yellow sails contrast with brilliant streaks of royal blue in the sky. Delicate linear rhythms define the lyrical ship as it floats through the ocean. In Abraham Rydberg the linear element is condensed into a myriad of dynamic diagonal lines that fill up every surface. The muted golden sails contrast with a delicate blue sky and sea, but the whole is a wonderful study of densely woven lines that articulate the ship and the elements.

Capable of simultaneous refine-ment and simplicity, North West [1944] illustrates how the artist could recreate the beauty of a brilliant evening with a few strokes of his pen and several washes. Angular planes become rugged mountains, a spider web of lines becomes the mast and rigging of a clipper ship, and strokes of luminous gold become stars sparkling brightly in the sky. Throughout Feininger's work, angular lines zigzag across the surface of the paper, creating a dynamic world of rhythm and movement.


A far different work, but beautiful in the subtlety of its design and richness of its color, is Old Stone Bridge [1945]. Angular trees and the triangular shape of the bridge create a contrapuntal rhythm to the curved arches of the bridge. The entire composition is bathed in a deep, luminous bluegreen light. Even the linear outlines of the architecture in Hauser [1943] take on a playful, whimsical quality as lines multiply, divide and stretch. Covered by a wash of glowing blue and umber, the buildings move in and out through space.

Feininger painted a monumental set of three murals for the Palace of Fine Arts, New York World's Fair in 1939. Among the watercolors on display are two studies for these murals, which were destroyed along with most of the Fair's stuctures. The murals captured the faceted tenor of modern life, and were instrumental in establishing the artist's presence in New York after he left Germany. The lyrical studies on view show linear arcs transposing into angular planes, the whole composition gliding across the paper in an intricate cubist dance. Delicate rose, blue and gold washes highlight and accentuate the beauty of the city.

During a long career that encompassed political cartoons, comics, fantasy illustrations, murals and his long tenure teaching at the Bauhaus, Feininger remained an ardent individualist, setting down the beauty of modern life in poetic masterpieces. By refining and paring down his luminous color and intricate lines, Feininger

 

"Old Stone Bridge," o/c,
21 x 28", 1945.

 

"American Clipper," watercolor/pen/
ink on paper, 8.7 x 13", 1942.