The German-American painter, graphic artist and caricaturist Lyonel Feininger is one of the most important artists of classical modernism. Born in New York on July 17, 1871, Feininger was artistically active in Berlin and Paris, before returning to his home in New York in 1937, where he died on 15 January 1956.
Lyonel Feininger was born on 17 July 1871 in New York, the son of two German musicians. At the age of sixteen he moved to Germany, where one year later he enrolled at the Royal Academy in Berlin. He interrupted his studies with stays in Paris and at the Collège St. Servais in Liège. From 1892 he regularly stayed on the Baltic coast and this, along with historic urban architecture, was a major source of inspiration for his art. While he was studying, he worked successfully as a caricaturist for various journals, but he didn’t start painting until 1907. In 1909, Feininger became a member of the Berlin Secession and exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants in Paris. Feininger was in contact with the artists from the Blaue Reiter, became a friend of Alfred Kubin’s and in 1917 his first solo exhibition was held at Herwarth Walden’s gallery ‘Der Sturm’ in Berlin. In 1919 he was appointed to teach the theory of form at the Bauhaus in Weimar. With Kandinsky, Klee and Jawlensky he founded ‘Die Blaue Vier’ in 1924 in order to organize exhibitions together. After the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, Feininger stopped teaching and in 1929 he painted eleven of his most famous views of Halle. In 1937 he moved with his family to New York; soon afterwards his pictures were confiscated by the Nazis and declared ‘degenerate’. In New York he was at first still attached to motifs from his homeland but became increasingly fascinated by the skyscrapers in Manhattan. On 15 January 1956 Lyonel Feininger died in New York. Feininger did not start painting until he was thirty-six, but developed a specific style early on in his work as a caricaturist, which after meeting Robert Delaunay he dubbed ‘prism-ism’. His fine but precise use of line was well suited to his choice of motifs showing towns and villages in Thuringia and the architecture of old European cities. The geometric construction of the buildings lends itself well to being transformed into a crystalline structure, which endows these motifs with a bright, light-flooded transparency and a sense of fragility. His late work was painted mainly from his memories and the graphic, clear line increasingly gave way to a painterly vision.