Lyonel Feininger: Artist Portrait

Lyonel Feininger

Born 1871. Died 1956.

Works by Lyonel Feininger at Sotheby's

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Lyonel Feininger Biography

The work of Lyonel Feininger spans critical decades in the development of Modernism. His work evades exact categorization by movement, though it functions at the intersection of German Expressionism, Cubism and Bauhaus experimentation. The works for which he is best known articulate the planar shifts and jagged lines of Cubism through an Orphist color palette, and explore humankind’s relationship to architecture, mechanization, and industrialization.

Feininger was born in New York City to German-American parents, but he spent most of his life and career in Europe, aligning with German Expressionism and the European avant-garde. He moved to Berlin to study music at the age of sixteen, but almost immediately turned to the visual arts, enrolling instead at the Kunstgewerbeschule and later the Akademie der Künste. He worked as a caricaturist for American and German magazines including Harper’s Round Table, Berliner Tageblatt, and Humoristische Blätter, and exhibited in the Berlin Secession exhibitions from 1901 to 1903. He spent 1906 to 1908 working in Paris, and expanding his painterly perspective upon encountering the works of Robert Delaunay and the Parisian avant-garde. He began exhibiting with Der Blaue Reiter in 1913, with Cubo-Expressionist compositions with imagery that consistently recalls architectural and nautical structures. In 1919, Walter Gropius invited him to teach at the newly formed Bauhaus, where he served as the head of the print workshop. After his work was declared degenerate by the Nazis, Feininger returned to the United States in 1937, where he spent the remainder of his life, experimenting with freer applications of color in addition to photography.

Multiple museums have organized posthumous retrospectives since his death in 1956, including the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts in 1963, the Pasadena Art Museum in 1966, the Kunsthaus Zürich in 1973, and the Whitney Museum in 2011. Feininger’s paintings consistently sell for record numbers; Jesuits III sold at Sotheby’s for $23.2 million, three times its estimate. His work features in major museums including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; and the Kunstmuseum Basel.

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Artist Image: Time Life Pictures