Lyonel Charles Adrian Feininger (born 17 July 1871 in New York, 13 January 1956) was a German-American painter, graphic artist and cartoonist. From 1909 he was a member of the Berlin Secession. With his work at the Bauhaus since 1919, he is one of the most important artists of classical modernism.
Feininger came to painting at the age of 36. He previously worked as a commercial cartoonist for various German, French and US newspapers and magazines. He subjected his work to a hard self-criticism, and developed a very striking painting style, out of his cartoons. In his paintings, the objects are abstracted and artistically exaggerated. The strength and the expression of Feininger’s style influenced numerous contemporary artists and justified his significance and success. Often Feininger used his works to recreate pictorial motifs and pictorial compositions of his own cartoons and sketches.
His pictures of churches and village cores of the Weimar region in Thuringia, for example, were famous for his work and study stays between 1906 and 1937. The pictures are mostly named after the respective localities (Gelmeroda, Niedergrunstedt, Possendorf, Mellingen, Vollersroda, Tiefurt, Taubach, Gaberndorf, Oberweimar, Zottelstedt and others).
Leonell (Lyonel) Feininger was born as son of the two respected German musicians Karl (later Charles) Feininger (Konzertgeiger) and Elisabeth Feininger (pianist and singer). In 1887, at the age of 16, Feininger came to Germany for the first time, with his parents, who were on a concert tour. With his permission, he was allowed to stay there and visit the Kunstgewerbeschule Hamburg. On 1 October of the following year, he passed the entrance examination of the Royal Academy in Berlin. He began early to draw for publishers and magazines. In 1892 he studied at the Paris Académie Colarossi, founded by the Italian sculptor Filippo Colarossi. After a seven-month stay in Paris, he returned to Berlin in 1893, where he worked as a freelance illustrator and cartoonist for the magazines Harpers Young People, Humoristic Leaves, Ulc, and The Funny Sheets.
In 1901 Feininger married the pianist Clara Fürst, a student of Artur Schnabel and sister of the painter Edmund Fürst. After meeting the artist Julia Berg, born Lilienfeld (1881-1970) in 1905, he separated from his wife Clara and his two daughters Leonore and Marianne. In February 1906, he visited Julia in Weimar, where she studied at the Grand Duke School of Art. Together they traveled to Paris in July, where their son Andreas (1906-1999) was born. In July 1906 Feininger met Robert Delaunay and Henri Matisse in Paris. He signed a contract with the Chicago Sunday Tribune on two comic series, The Kin-der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie’s World, which today are ranked among the classics, but both have been discontinued early. In 1908 Lyonel and Juliet married and settled in Berlin. They received two other sons, Laurence (1909-1976) and Theodore Lux (1910-2011). In 1909 he became a member of the Berlin Secession.
In 1911, six paintings by Feininger were exhibited at the “Salon des Artistes Indépendants” (“Salon des independent artists”) at the Pont d’Alma. First contact with Cubism took place. In 1912 the painter became acquainted with the Künstlergruppe Brücke and produced his first architectural compositions.
Together with the artists of the “Blaue Reiter”, he participated in 1913 at the invitation of Franz Marc at the First German Autumn Salon in the Berlin gallery “Der Sturm”. In 1914, Feininger produced an etching and prepared artistic models of railways for industrial toy manufacture. Besides, he had an exhibition with u. a. Moritz Coschell at the Arnold Gallery in Dresden. After the outbreak of the First World War, he returned to Berlin. Feininger’s first solo exhibition was opened on 2 September 1917 in the gallery “Der Sturm”. There were 45 paintings and 66 other works. In 1918, the Galerie Neue Kunst Hans Goltz exhibited another solo exhibition in Munich. In November of that year, Feininger joined the November group, initiated by Max Pechstein and César Klein, and met Walter Gropius. In 1919 he was appointed by Gropius as director of the graphic workshop at the Bauhaus in Weimar. In the middle of August, Feininger and his family moved to Gutenbergstrasse 16 in Weimar. Following the holistic claim of the Bauhaus, Feininger also devoted himself to music in 1921 and composed his first fugue.
He spent the summer months with his wife Julia and the sons Andreas, Laurence and Theodore Lux on the island of Usedom. From 1908 to 1921 he spent the summer months in Heringsdorf, Neppermin and Benz out by bike and where he & a. Several times the Benzer St. Petri church painted, and from 1924 to 1935 in Deep on the Pommerschen Ostseeküste near Kolberg. He made many sketches (“Naturnotizen”), which he repeatedly used in his later work.
Feininger bike trails in the surroundings of Weimar and Usedom follow the artist’s footsteps.
In 1919 Feininger was appointed to the Bauhaus as the first Bauhaus master of Walter Gropius to Weimar. He was until 1925 the head of the printing workshops. In 1921 a folder with linocuts from Feininger was published as his first Bauhaus publication. In 1923 Feininger stayed in Erfurt. In New York, 47 paintings, watercolors, drawings and prints are exhibited in the Anderson Gallery: A Collection of Modern German Art. In 1924, Feininger, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexei Jawlensky founded the exhibition group “Blaue Vier”. After the Bauhaus was closed in Weimar in 1925 as a result of entries by the Thuringian craftsmen and the German-Volkish bloc in the Thuringian Landtag, it was re-founded in Dessau in 1926. On July 30, 1926, Feininger and his family moved to Dessau in one of the newly erected master houses. There, Feininger, at his own request, was relieved of all his teaching duties at the Bauhaus. Until 1932 he remained on Walter Gropius’ “Master”.
In 1930/31 he worked at the invitation of the Stadthalle (Saale) on a total of eleven expressionist city views of Halle, in particular the views of the market church and the red tower were known. In 1933 Lyonel and Julia Feininger moved to Berlin. Also by the help of the Quedlinburg art collector Hermann Klumpp the couple on 11 June 1937 left the nation-socialist Germany to the USA, where Feininger worked as a freelance painter in New York.
In the time of National Socialism, Feininger’s works were officially regarded as “degenerate art”. The National Socialists confiscated the artist’s works from public collections. A few months after his departure, they exhibited eight paintings (city views), a watercolor, and thirteen woodcuts on the exhibition Entartete Kunst in Munich.
As early as 1936, Feininger visited New York, taught at Mills College in Oakland during the summer months, and prepared his relocation to the United States. Galt Feininger in Germany as an American painter, so he was almost unknown to the New York public after his return as a “German”. “In the beginning, I suffered greatly from the feeling of being foreign.” In the summer of 1937, he taught at Mills College again and made his first watercolors (“Manhattan at Night”), where he met New York. In 1939 he completed motifs already begun in Germany in the Baltic Sea and from Deep in Pomerania. A year later he launched a series of “Manhattan pictures”, which had the modern “skyscraper” architecture and street gullies on the topic. Yet for Feininger – although living in New York – the memorized motifs of his former homeland remained an important subject. In 1944, he met Fernand Léger and, together with Marsden Hartley, exhibited a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1947, he was elected president of the “Federation of American Painters and Sculptors” and a year before his death as a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
As a member of the Deutscher Künstlerbundes, Feininger participated in the third annual exhibition in the Hamburger Kunsthalle in 1953. In the following years, Feininger also exhibited in Frankfurt, Baden-Baden and Düsseldorf.
Feininger died in his apartment (235 East 22nd Street) in New York at the age of 84. He was buried at the Mount Hope Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, Westchester County, New York. His son Andreas Feininger became a well-known photographer in New York. His son Laurence Feininger (musicologist) died 1976 in Freienfeld, Italy.