The German-American artist Lyonel Feininger (1871 to 1956) has long been considered one of the classics of modern art. As early as 1919, when the State Bauhaus was founded, he was appointed as the first Bauhaus master by Walter Gropius in Weimar, where he was in charge of the printing workshops until 1925 (when the Bauhaus was re-established in Dessau). Thanks in part to the help of the Quedlinburg art collector Hermann Klumpp, Lyonel and Julia Feininger were able to leave Nazi Germany for the USA on 11 June 1937, where Feininger worked as a freelance painter in New York. Now, from 27 October to 18 February 2024, the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt am Main is dedicating the first major retrospective in Germany for over 25 years to the important painter and graphic artist. The show “Lyonel Feininger. Retrospective”, according to the announcement, draws “a comprehensive and surprising overall picture of his oeuvre”, which, in addition to his well-known paintings of buildings and crystalline architecture, also takes into account seemingly contradictory interests of his oeuvre.
Around 160 paintings, drawings, caricatures, watercolours, woodcuts, photographs and objects are presented. These include rarely shown major works such as “The Cyclists (Cycle Race)” (1912), “Self-Portrait” (1915), “Zirchow VII” (1918), “Gelmeroda XIII” (1936) or “Manhattan I” (1940) as well as lesser-known works such as the artist’s photographs, which were rediscovered only a few years ago. In addition to central works from his early figurative phase with political caricatures, humorous-grotesque city views and carnivalesque figures – Feininger worked for satirical magazines and newspapers such as “Ulk” or “Lustige Blätter” and developed comic series for the “Chicago Sunday Tribune” – the exhibition will also shed light on his role as a Bauhaus teacher and master of graphic techniques such as drawing and woodcut. Less well known is that Feininger also created wooden toys. From 1913 onwards, he worked on locomotives made of colourful hardwood; series production failed due to the First World War. Feininger also focused on his exile in the USA. Feininger developed his famous crystalline architectural series, still his best-known group of works, during the First World War and into the 1920s. A few years before his death, he created the “Ghosties”, a humorous series of watercolour ink drawings, which, like his caricatures and toys, contrast with his monumental architectural paintings in their playful lightness.
Dr. Ingrid Pfeiffer, curator of the exhibition, explains: “Lyonel Feininger’s outstanding oeuvre represents numerous currents in 20th century art in an exemplary manner; nevertheless, it is extremely individual. His artistic development is not linear, it shows numerous leaps and recessions; at the same time, Feininger’s major themes become visible across all media and into his late work. His independent thinking is free of hierarchies; the opposite and the different are also permitted. At first glance often serious, constructed and monumental, it is at the same time a work full of surprises, profound melancholy and playful lightness.”
To accompany the exhibition, Hirmer Verlag is publishing a catalogue edited by Ingrid Pfeiffer in a German and English edition with contributions by Ute Ackermann, Sebastian Ehlert, Anna Huber, Gloria Köpnick, Franziska Lampe, Barbara Leven, Achim Moeller and Ingrid Pfeiffer. In addition, the Schirn offers an accompanying booklet and a free Digitorial® that provide insights into Feininger’s artistic world.
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