Lot 102
  • 102

Lyonel Feininger

Estimate
700,000 - 900,000 USD
Sold
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Description

  • Lyonel Feininger
  • NORMANNISCHES DORF I (NORMAN VILLAGE I)

  • Signed and dated Feininger 18 (lower right)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 31½ by 39½ in.
  • 80 by 100 cm

Provenance

Dr. Franz Kantorowicz, Berlin-Steglitz and Stockton, California (by 1928)
Justin K. Thannhauser, New York (on consignment from the above)
Acquired from the above on February 17, 1950

Exhibited

Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Neuere Deutsche Kunst aus Berliner Privatbesitz, 1928 (titled Niedergrunstedt)
Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Lyonel Feininger, 1931, no. 53
San Francisco Museum of Art, 1941 (on loan)
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Lyonel Feininger, 1954-55, no. 5a (titled Danken)
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, De Renaissance der XXe Eeuw, 1958, no. 104
San Francisco Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; The Cleveland Museum of Art; Buffalo, Albright Art Gallery; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Lyonel Feininger Memorial Exhibition, 1959-60, no. 14
Hamburg, Kunstverein; Essen, Folkwang Museum; Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Lyonel Feininger 1871-1956, Gedächtnisausstellung, 1961, no. 15
Strasbourg, Ancienne Douane, L’Art en Europe autour de 1918, 1968, no. 63
Munich, Haus der Kunst; Zurich, Kunsthaus,  Lyonel Feininger, 1973, no. 93
Zürich, Galerie Lopes, 1989

Literature

Hans Hess, Lyonel Feininger, London, 1959, no. 190, illustrated p. 265
Ulrich Lockhardt, Lyonel Feininger, Munich, 1989, discussed p. 110

Catalogue Note

At the end of World War I, artists in Germany attempted to rebuild the cultural life of the republic, hoping to reignite the creativity that had flourished at the beginning of the decade.  In 1918, painters, writers and architects from all over the country formed organizations, such as Novembergruppe in Berlin and the Arbeitstrat für Kunst, that promoted specific social and cultural agendas.  Among the members of both of these groups was Lyonel Feininger, whose successful one-man exhibition in 1917 at the Galerie Der Sturm had established his reputation as an artist of important cultural standing in Germany.  But Feininger was wary of ideological groups and largely worked on his own during this time, never compromising his committment to individual artistic expression. "Not for nothing did I become a painter, the ultimate means of expressing myself," he wrote around the time he painted the present work. "[A]nd I must admit I am a painter who torments himself unreasonably, a man who fails a hundred times. In the quiet of my studio I wage despairing battles; daily I arise to new struggles, inspired by hope, only to despair again in the evening... Now only the vale is left to me, only willpower; perhaps I have not a single one of the gifts of the modern 'painterly,' 'amusing' creative artist... The church, the mill, the bridge, the house - and the graveyard - have all inspired me with deep feeling since childhood. They are all symbolic.  But it is only since the war that I have realized why I feel this compulsion to keep representing them in pictures" (reprinted in Ulrich Luckhardt, Lyonel Feininger, Munich, 1989, pp. 35-36).

The present work is one of only eight canvases, including one that is currently at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. (see fig. 1), that Feininger completed in 1918.  Painting supplies were expensive and difficult to obtain at the end of the war, and his primary medium that year was woodcut, an inexpensive alternative that enabled him to put his skills as a draftsman to good use.  Feininger's focus on new media and his emphasis on draftsmanship carried over into the oils that he completed in 1918, including this painting.  Here, he depicts a village with a precision and stylistic confidence that could only be achieved by an expert draftsman.  Angles intersecting and overlapping add depth and dimension to the composition, and, in spite of the abstraction that he achieves with this technique, Feininger is able to preserve the legibility of the scene.  His confidence in his craft is most clearly expressed in the manner in which he executes the architectural features of buildings; the slope of the eaves and the sharpness of the corners are exaggerated, dramatically heightening the importance of line as a structural device in this picture.  Feininger returned to this subject again in 1920, creating a related composition called Normannisches Dorf II, now in the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (see fig. 2).  According to Ulrich Luckhardt, "The two compositions are almost identical, differing only in the coloring.  The design presumably derives from a sketch made in September 1906 during a visit to Normandy from Paris; houses are arranged in a row, one behind the other, on a gentle slope" (Ulrich Lockhardt, Lyonel Feininger, Munich, 1989, p. 110).

Many of the compositions that Feininger completed in 1918, both in woodcut (see fig. 3) and in oil, focused on the beauty of architecture.  Through his involvement with Arbeitstrat für Kunst, the artist made the acquaintance of Walter Gropius, the founder of  the new international design school called the Bauhaus.  Gropius's influence as an architect made its mark in Feininger's compositions of this period, which were characterized by a clarity and monumentality of form that is so perfectly expressed by the present work.  In 1919, Feininger was selected by Gropius to be the head of the graphic workshop at the Bauhaus, and designed the first cover of the Bauhaus manifesto.

Concerning his pictures from this era, Feininger wrote:  "Each individual work serves as an expression of our most personal state of mind at that particular moment and of the inescapable, imperative need for release by means of an appropriate act of creation: in the rhythm, form and color and mood of a picture" (quoted in Wolf-Dieter Dube, Expressionism, New York, 1973, p. 172).

Fig. 1, Lyonel Feininger, Zirchow VII, 1918, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Fig. 2, Lyonel Feininger, Normannisches Dorf II, 1920, oil on canvas, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart
Fig. 3, Lyonel Feininger, Rathaus, 1918, woodcut, Private Collection

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