Lot 12
  • 12

Lyonel Feininger

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  • Lyonel Feininger
  • signed Feininger and dated 1909 on the reverse; dated feb - mar. 1909 on the stretcher
  • oil on canvas
  • 39.5 by 66cm.
  • 15 1/2 by 26in.


Dr Hermann Klumpp, Quedlinburg (circa 1934-74)
Estate of Julia Feininger
Achim Moeller Fine Art Ltd., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner


New York, Acquavella Galleries and Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection, Lyonel Feininger, 1985-86, no. 22, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Lyonel Feininger. Menschenbilder. Eine unbekannte Welt, 2003-04, no. 60, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Hans Hess, Lyonel Feininger, New York, 1959, p. 251, no. 37, illustrated
Wolfhart Draeger (ed.), Du 543 (May 1986), p. 22, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Diabolospielerinnen I is one of Feininger’s rare and remarkable early works that combines the linear aesthetic of graphic art with the fluidity of oil paint. Having spent the first fifteen years of his career as a successful illustrator for periodicals in Berlin and Paris, Feininger only turned his attention to painting in 1907 at the age of 36, adapting one of his published cartoons into a composition in oil (figs. 2 & 3). With this new medium, he was able to take greater compositional risks, creating striking tonal contrasts and using daring colour combinations in a similar manner to the Fauves. But Feininger would never completely abandon his allegiance to draftsmanship and increasingly emphasised its importance in his oil compositions over the next few years. Writing to his wife Julia in 1908 about his new series of paintings underway at his Berlin-Zehlendorf studio, he explained that he had become more adept as a painter, incorporating more readily the ‘impressionistic’ modes of execution that he had learned while working as a young illustrator in France: "My approach has become looser and is closer to my way of drawing again… for in the past three-and-a-half months here I have been through various stages, and now come back to my Paris style… It must be right for me to be returning to the way I naturally draw and perceive, for it gives me so much confidence. This time I am using color more energetically, and I have a number of pictures in the pipeline, dear God, they only need to be painted" (quoted in Ulrich Luckhardt, Lyonel Feininger, Munich, 1989, p. 52). Over the course of the next decade, the artist completed several figural compositions in oil that are now considered some of the finest works of his career. As the focus of his paintings gradually shifted toward architecture, nothing that he would produce in later decades would even come close to the whimsical spirit of these early pictures.

Feininger’s experience as a graphic artist gave him a creative advantage when it came to rendering dimension in his painting, as he was remarkably effective at conveying spatial depth without being reliant upon gradations of colour or excessive details. In Diabolospielerinnen I he varies the scale and proportion of each figure in order to create the illusion of distance. Rendering only the path, some tree trunks and chairs, he relies on a paucity of visual cues to locate the given scene. The viewer is enticed to look at the composition in its entirety by the sweep of the curve in the gravel path, which leads the eye from the upper-right corner, across the upper register and then down toward the bottom center of the canvas. Despite the abstract leanings of this approach, Feininger maintains the continuity of the composition and creates a scene that is both visually engaging and formally sophisticated.

The scene of Diabolospielerinnen I is taking place in the Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris. Feininger moved to Paris in July 1906 where he stayed until 1908, renting a studio in 242, Boulevard Raspail. Fascinated by its atmosphere and its citizens, Feininger executed a number of works representing the elegantly dressed bourgeoisie, as well as eccentric looking characters one encountered on the streets of Paris (fig. 4). The focus of the present painting is a girl in the foreground playing with a diabolo, a spool-shaped object balanced on a string that is attached at each end to a stick, her image echoed by two diabolo players in the background. The motif of a girl with a diabolo also occurs in another painting of 1909, Figuren in Abenddämmerung (fig. 5). In the present work, another nine figures are scattered around the composition, walking in all directions. Rendering them in bright colour planes, and with elongated features typical of his early mannerist style, Feininger delights in representing each figure as some sort of caricature, a practice that was common in the medium of illustration. Perhaps the most spirited and progressive aspect of the composition is the sharp outlining the individual figures who appear to be pasted onto the surface of the picture. Through these pictorial devices of perspective and figural distortions, as well as eccentricities of colour, the artist transforms an otherwise mundane scene into a world where the strange and the familiar are inextricably wound. Unlike the more serene, even macabre atmosphere of some of Feininger’s works from this period, the curving form of the path and of the figures’ clothes and hats, alluding to the dizzying rotations of the diabolo ball after it has been cast into the air, Diabolospielerinnen I is a celebration of playfulness, youth, hope and life.

When Feininger moved to the U.S. in 1937 on the eve of the war, this painting was one of about 50 from his early œuvre that he left in the care of an associate in Quedlinburg, Germany. Although the artist made several futile attempts during his lifetime to have these works shipped from East Germany to his new residence in New York, it was not until 1984, nearly thirty years after his death, that the pictures were finally returned to Feininger’s heirs in the United States. In honour of their recovery, these works, including the present painting, were featured in an important exhibition at Acquavella Galleries in New York and The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., where the present work was included.

Fig. 1, Lyonel Feininger, Diabolospielerinnen, 1907, pencil on paper, The Piedmont Morgan Library, New York
Fig. 2, Lyonel Feininger, Les Regrets de M. Hearst, caricature in Le Témoin, 1906
Fig. 3, Lyonel Feininger, Der weiße Mann, 1907, oil on canvas, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
Fig. 4, Lyonel Feininger, Strasse in Paris, 1909, oil on canvas, The University of Iowa Museum of Art
Fig. 5, Lyonel Feininger, Figuren in Abenddämmerung, 1909, oil on canvas, Private Collection