Lyonel Feininger

From Cartoons to Cubism

(Go to gallery of paintings below)

Self portrait, Lyonel FeiningerSelf-Portrait, 1915, Houston Museum of Fine Arts

Lyonel Feininger was a German-American artist who became one of the best-known and admired contributors to the cubist and expressionist schools of art in the early 20th century.

Feininger was one of the founders of the Bauhaus school of art and architecture, along with Walter Gropius.

He taught at the school in Weimar and later at Dessau, until it was closed by the Nazis in 1933.

Illustration by Lyonel Feininger on cover of Cathedral of SocialismCathedral, 1919, N.Y. Museum of Modern Art

When Walter Gropius wrote the Bauhaus manifesto, Cathedral of Socialism, Lyonel Feininger created the cover illustration, a woodcut called "Cathedral", seen on the right.

Feininger was also a member of the Blue Four group of expressionists, which included Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky.

Many of Feininger's paintings show his distinctive style: angular planes of light intersecting and overlapping one another, often in muted, "industrial" shades. 

They seems to reflect a theme often showing up in the works of early 20th century expressionists: the sense of alienation felt by the individual in modern society.

His earliest works have a lively, art nouveau look, which later shifts to a muted, impersonal style.

Lyonel Feininger - Biography

Ye Learned Apothecary, drawing by Lyonel FeiningerYe Learned Apothecary

Lyonel Feininger was born in New York City in 1871 to a German father and a German-American mother. Both were accomplished musicians: his father, a violinist, and his mother, a singer.

At sixteen, Lyonel was sent off to the Leipzig Music Conservatory to study music, but ended up taking classes at the Hamburg School of Art instead.

For twenty years, Feininger worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for newspapers and magazines, both in Germany and the United States.

In 1906, the Chicago Tribune hired him to draw cartoons for two comic strips: The Kin-Der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie's World.

Kin-der-Kids illustration showing artist Lyonel Feininger on cover of Chicago Sunday Tribune
Kin-der-Kids Abroad, illustration by Lyonel Feininger on the cover of the Chicago Tribune

The Kin-Der-Kids was intended to compete with the popular Katzenjammer Kids comic strip. The story revolved around the adventures of the Kids, who traveled through the world in a bathtub while avoiding their Auntie Jim-Jam and her castor oil.

The drawing style was novel and Feininger was one of the first cartoonists to put speech in a bubble. The contract was canceled after nine months when Feininger refused to relocate to America.

Lyonel Feininger started doing "serious" art at the age of 36 in 1907, beginning with sketches and watercolors. Many of these were of Weimar and the surrounding villages, which he saw when he was visiting his girlfriend, an art student in Weimar.

One of the towns, Gelmenroda, appears frequently in his sketches and later in his paintings. Gelmenroda was the subject of his first oil painting.

When World War I started, he had a difficult time living in Germany as an American; he moved to the Harz Mountains with his family and began creating prints from wood cuts.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Lyonel Feininger's work was declared "Degenerate Art", or "Entartete Kunst". The Bauhaus school was closed by the authorities as well.

400 of his works were seized by the Ministry of Propaganda and some 17 were included in various exhibitions of Degenerate Art held in 1936 and 1937.

Degenerate Art Exhibit, Hitler and Goebbels attendingDegenerate Art Exhibit
Photo of Lyonel Feininger

Because of the artistic climate and his wife's Jewish ancestry, Feininger left Germany in 1937 and settled permanently in New York City. He continued with his art in New York until his death in 1956 at the age of 84.

Lyonel Feininger became quite famous during the years between the wars and after. His works were exhibited in numerous galleries in Europe and the United States, including the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Now they are widely scattered among numerous galleries worldwide. (Information on the Lyonel Feininger Gallery in Quedlinburg.)

Examples of Lyonel Feininger's Paintings

The works below are presented chronologically. You can see a progression from the representational, colorful, almost cartoon-like drawings to his characteristic abstract, somber style.

Lyonel Feininger, In a Village Near Paris, 1909In a Village Near Paris, 1909 Univ. of Iowa Museum of Art
Lyonel Feininger, Newspaper Readers, 1909Newspaper Readers, 1909
Lyonel Feininger, Longeuil, Normandie, 1909Longeuil, Normandie, 1909, Art Institute of Chicago
Lyonel Feininger, Velocipedists, 1910Velocipedists, 1910
Lyonel Feininger, Uprising, 1910Uprising, 1910, N.Y. Museum of Modern Art
Lyonel Feininger, Carnival in Arcueil, 1911Carnival in Arcueil, 1911, Art Institute of Chicago
Lyonel Feininger, Bathers on the Beach, 1912Bathers on the Beach, 1912, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge
Lyonel Feininger, Bicycle Race, 1912Bicycle Race, 1912, National Gallery, D.C.
Lyonel Feininger, Angler With Blue Fish II, 1912Angler With Blue Fish II, 1912, (Sold June 2006, Sotheby's)
Lyonel Feininger, Gelmeroda III, 1913Gelmeroda III, 1913, National Galleries of Scotland
Lyonel Feininger, Umpferstedt II, 1914Umpferstedt II, 1914 Philadelphia Museum of Art
Lyonel Feininger, Gross Kromsdorf I, 1915Gross Kromsdorf I, 1915, Minneapolis Institute of Art
Lyonel Feininger, Harbor at Neppermin, 1915Harbor at Neppermin, 1915, Art Institute of Chicago
Lyonel Feininger, Jesuits III, 1915Jesuits III, 1915, (Sold May 2007, Sotheby's)
Lyonel Feininger, The Green Bridge II, 1916The Green Bridge II, 1916, North Carolina Museum of Art
Lyonel Feininger, Denstedt 1917Denstedt 1917, N.Y. Museum of Modern Art
Lyonel Feininger, Markwippach, 1917Markwippach, 1917, Cleveland Museum of Art
Lyonel Feininger, Still Life With Can, 1917Still Life With Can, 1917, (For sale,
Lyonel Feininger, Yellow Street, 1918Yellow Street, 1918, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Lyonel Feininger, Zirchow VII, 1918Zirchow VII, 1918, National Gallery, D.C
Lyonel Feininger, Bridge V, 1919Bridge V, 1919, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Lyonel Feininger, Hopfgarten, 1920Hopfgarten, 1920, Minneapolis Institute of Art
Lyonel Feininger, Architecture II, 1921Architecture II, 1921, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
Lyonel Feininger, Upper Weimar, 1921Upper Weimar, 1921, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Lyonel Feininger, Gelmeroda Village Pond, 1922Gelmeroda Village Pond, 1922, Städel Museum, Frankfurt
Lyonel Feininger, Lady in Mauve, 1922Lady in Mauve, 1922, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
Lyonel Feininger, Marine Blue, 1924Marine Blue, 1924
Lyonel Feininger, Barfusserkirche, 1924Barfusserkirche, 1924
Lyonel Feininger, Village, 1927Village, 1927, Phillips Collection
Lyonel Feininger, The Gruetz Tower in Treptow, 1928The Gruetz Tower in Treptow, 1928
Lyonel Feininger, Arch Tower IArch Tower I
Lyonel Feininger, Gelmeroda XII, 1929Gelmeroda XII, 1929
Lyonel Feininger, Sail Boats, 1929Sail Boats, 1929
Lyonel Feininger, Village Street, 1929Village Street, 1929, Art Institute of Chicago
Lyonel Feininger, Spiller Tag am Meer III, 1929Spiller Tag am Meer III, 1929
Lyonel Feininger, Regler Church, Erfurt, 1930Regler Church, Erfurt, 1930, Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Lyonel Feininger, Sunset, 1930Sunset, 1930, Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Lyonel Feininger, Vogel WolkeVogel Wolke
Lyonel Feininger, Storm Brewing, 1939Storm Brewing, 1939, National Gallery, D.C.
Lyonel Feininger, Old LocomotiveOld Locomotive
Lyonel Feininger, Silver ConstellationSilver Constellation
Lyonel Feininger, Manhattan I, 1940Manhattan I, 1940, N.Y. Musuem of Modern Art
Lyonel Feininger, Spook I, 1940Spook I, 1940, Phillips Collection
Lyonel Feininger, Lunar Web, 1951Lunar Web, 1951, Brooklyn Museum

Some dates and locations I wasn't able to find. The images are used in accordance with the U.S. Fair Use Copyright Law: commentary on works, small images files.

See list of galleries with Lyonel Feininger's works.

The town of Quedlinburg in the Harz Mountains has a gallery with some of Feininger's drawings and sketches. See Quedlinburg for information on the town and gallery.