- Lyonel Feininger
- DRAISINENFAHRER (VELOCIPEDISTS)
- signed Feininger and dated 10 (lower right)
- oil on canvas
- 96 by 84.5cm.
- 37 3/4 by 33 1/4 in.
Julia Feininger, New York (the artist's wife, by descent)
Estate of the above
Nationalgalerie, Berlin (for safekeeping 1974-84)
Sale: Sotheby's, London, 29th March 1988, lot 17
Fujii Gallery, Tokyo (purchased at the above sale)
Private Collection (Sale: Christie's, New York, 2nd November 1993, lot 37)
Purchased at the above sale by the previous owner
Paris, Quai d'Orsay, Société des Artistes Indépendants, La 27ème Exposition 1911, 1911, no. 2182
Berlin, Ausstellungshaus am Kurfürstendamm, XXIV. Ausstellung der Berliner Secession, 1912, no. 50
Dresden, Galerie Emil Richter, Lyonel Feininger. Sonder-Ausstellung seiner Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen und Holzschnitte, 1919, no. 7
Hanover, Kestner Gesellschaft, Paul Klee / Lyonel Feininger. 29. Sonder-Ausstellung, 1919-20, no. 129
New York, Acquavella Galleries Inc. & Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection, Lyonel Feininger, 1985-86, no. 25, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
'Lyonel Feininger: Frühe Werke', in Du. Die Zeitschrift für Kunst und Kultur, vol. 5, 1986, illustrated p. 30
Andreas Hüneke, Lyonel Feininger. Maler und Werk, Dresden, 1989, no. 1, illustrated in colour
Painted in 1910, Draisinenfahrer is a beautiful example of Feininger’s early work, depicting fashionably dressed people pursuing outdoor activities. The elongated mannerist style of his works from this period reflects Feininger’s previous career in graphic art, incorporating its linear aesthetic into his oil paintings. Having spent the first fifteen years of his career as 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. 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 draughtsmanship and increasingly emphasised its importance in his oil compositions over the next few years, many of which are now considered amongst the finest works of his career.
Feininger’s experience as a graphic artist gave him a creative advantage when it came to rendering dimension in his painting, as he was extraordinarily capable of conveying spatial depth without being reliant upon gradations of colour or traditional rendering of perspective. In Draisinenfahrer he varies the scale and proportion of each figure in order to create the illusion of distance. Painted in bright monochrome pink, the background does not offer any clues as to the location of the scene we are witnessing, but rather offers a vibrant backdrop onto which the figures appear to be superimposed. Rather than depicting an event from everyday life, the artist has chosen here to represent an imaginary scene, depicting the figures in nineteenth-century costume and with old-fashioned bicycles. The women’s veils, bonnets, long dresses and gloves, and the men’s top hats and tailcoats add a romantic note to an otherwise everyday activity.
Writing about this theme in Feininger’s art, Ulrich Luckhardt observed: ‘The sport of cycling is a frequent subject in Feininger’s cartoons. An enthusiastic cyclist, always up-to-date on the latest technology, he found a public eager for drawings on this theme in such Berlin magazines as Das Narrenrad (1899) and Das Schnauferl. Blätter für Sporthumor (1907-10) [fig. 2]. Georg Hermann recognized Feininger’s importance in this field and acknowledged it in 1901: ‘But his best achievements were his cartoons of cyclists. He is the psychologist of the bicycle and the sportsman, of the professional cyclist and the long-distance rider, indeed of all who use the machine to get around. He has translated this modern cultural artifact into cartoons… And how he sees the bicycle! Not as a simple construction in steel; this is almost a living being, drawn with love and delight, and with such penetration of all its qualities! Feininger’s satires on the doggedness of sport, that truly useless world, are among the best jokes we have on a sport that is in fact as useful as it seems meaningless in this exaggeration of it’’ (U. Luckhardt, Lyonel Feininger, Munich, 1989, p. 74).
Rendering the cyclists in bright colour planes, and with exaggerated, elongated features typical of his early mannerist style (fig. 3), Feininger delights in representing each figure as a sort of caricature, a practice that was common in the medium of illustration. 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, with its almost dizzying palette and its playful subject matter, Draisinenfahrer is a joyful evocation of past times.
This painting was one of about 50 from Feininger’s early œuvre that he left in the care of an associate in Quedlinburg, Germany when he moved to the U.S. in 1937 on the eve of the war. 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 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 in Berlin, 1898
Fig. 2, Lyonel Feininger, Bilanz, 1908, caricature in Das Schnauferl
Fig. 3, Lyonel Feininger, Strasse in Paris, 1909, oil on canvas, The University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City
Fig. 4, Lyonel Feininger, Die Radfahrer, 1912, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.