Lyonel Feininger was born on 17 July 1871, in New York. In 1887, he travelled to Germany to pursue a career in music but ended up studying art at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, from 1888 to 1892. Alongside his studies, Feininger worked as a caricaturist for both American (Harper’s Round Table) and German (Fliegende Blätter) magazines. Feininger spent a year in Paris (1906-07) where he continued to work as a satirical caricaturist and cartoonist (e.g. The Kin-Der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie’s World, The Chicago Tribune) before returning to Berlin.
Feininger first began to seriously paint in 1907, depicting architectural subjects and street scenes. In 1909, he joined the Berlin Secession and became associated with the German Expressionists, exhibiting with Der Blaue Reiter at Herwarth Walden’s Der Sturm gallery in Berlin (1913). Feininger would also travel to Usedom, an island in the Baltic Sea, for the first time in 1909, and would spend subsequent summers there until 1921 to recover and seek inspiration. A trip to Paris in 1911 would prove formative in Feininger’s artistic development. Encountering Cubism and the works of Orphist painter Robert Delaunay saw his work transform aesthetically with the incorporation of overlapping geometric motifs, prismatic planes and luminous colour to depict everyday subjects and scenes.
After the First World War, Feininger was asked by Walter Gropius to teach at the newly founded Bauhaus school in Weimar, becoming the school’s first form master and head of its print workshop. In 1919, he produced the woodcut, Cathedral, 1919, which adorned the Bauhaus manifesto. In 1924, he co-founded Die Blaue Vier ('The Blue Four') group with long-time friends and colleagues, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Alexej von Jawlensky. The group would exhibit for the first time in New York at the Charles Daniel Gallery (1925), followed by numerous other presentations in Germany and the US. Feininger stopped teaching at the Bauhaus in 1925, when it moved to Dessau, though he remained an artist-in-residence. From 1928, he began experimenting with photography, though he never publicised his photographic work. He had a major solo exhibition at the Nationalgalerie, Berlin, in 1931. Following the first Entartete Kunst (‘degenerate art’) exhibition in 1936, Feininger fled to the US where he briefly taught at Mills College, Oakland, before settling in New York. In 1945, he had a joint retrospective with Marsden Hartley at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Feininger died on 13 January 1956 in New York.
Feininger’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin; Städel Museum, Frankfurt; the Albertina, Vienna; Palazzo Ruspoli, Rome; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Kunstmuseum Basel; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris.
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