Lyonel Feininger, Wüste See (Desert Sea)
Impressionist & Modern Art

Lyonel & T. Lux Feininger — The Bauhaus Legacy of Father & Son

By Sotheby's

A number of works by two artists bearing one of the most illustrious names in art history will be offered in the upcoming Impressionist and Modern Day Sale, showing the breadth of the family’s contribution — from early experiments in to abstraction — to experimental photography and beyond. The Feininger legacy spans a critical period in the birth of Modernism, from Bauhaus Master Lyonel’s investigations in the early twentieth century, through to T. Lux’s own rigorous approach to image-making and manipulation of the pictorial plane.

Capturing a fleeting image of time and space, a memory, a sentiment of the past, is at the core of Lyonel Feininger’s creative process. He did not create art for purely aesthetic reasons, but rather because of an urge to bring his innermost memories to life. When Feininger moved back to New York in 1937 after almost 50 years in Germany, he found himself longing for the Baltic Sea, which he first fell in love with during a visit to the island of Rügen in 1892. Desert Sea, 1945 is an expression of those joyous memories of summers on the Baltic.

The composition, with two small figures looking out towards the vast sky and sea, a tiny ship just visible on the horizon, is reminiscent of Feininger’s early cloud pictures of 1923. The bold lines and broad swaths of colour, however, mark Desert Sea as emblematic of the graphic style of Feininger’s late period in which it is line, and not colour, that structures the composition. The rich reds and ochers, rather than the tranquil blues typical of Feininger’s other seascapes, reference the striking rock formations of the California desert, which Feininger first saw in 1937.

Completed on 9 February, only two months before the end of World War II, Desert Sea is a reflection of both blissful and melancholy memories. Though Feininger managed to leave Germany, he worried about his friends who remained behind, and mourned the destruction of his adopted country. He realised that, even if he should return, his ‘beloved Baltic Sea’ would never be the same. The deep dark colours and almost violent black slashes of Desert Sea are in stark contrast to earlier brighter and more tranquil depictions of the motif.

Schiff im Golf von Siam (Ship in the Gulf of Siam), 1931, is one of the earliest paintings by Theodore Lux (T. Lux) Feininger, Lyonel Feininger’s youngest son. With his father employed by Walter Gropius at the Bauhaus, it was naturally decided that he, too, would study at the school, which by then had moved to Dessau from Weimar. T. Lux counted Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Oskar Schlemmer as his tutors, and the visual language he cultivated during these formative years would be carried through to his later works, and the subsequent adoption of photography as a medium.

T. Lux would frequently watch as his father sketched countless drawings and watercolors of seascapes, and at nineteen he himself took up pencil and crayons to make drawings of the same subject matter. Though Schiff im Golf von Siam is one of T. Lux’s early paintings, it demonstrates a certain artistic maturity and a skilled attention to detail.

The three-masted ship, with the checkered flag that signals the end of a race hoisted aloft, sails on a deep blue sea, silhouetted against the billowing black smoke of a yellow-striped tugboat that leads it in to port. The ship’s sharp prow and masts contrast with the rounded forms of the smoke and white clouds, giving the work a dynamic tension.

These first artistic ventures did not go unnoticed by his parents, and in July 1930 his proud father wrote of his son’s promise to his friend, the art historian Alois J. Schardt: “Lux is very hard-working and made beautiful Marine-sheets with ink and colored pencil, which will lead to sounding and luminous paintings. The boy is divine. In his promise lies my joy…”

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