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.
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.
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.
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. "
Sail Boats, 1929
Mid Ocean, 1937, Art Museum of Saxony