Lot 22
  • 22

Lyonel Feininger

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Lyonel Feininger
  • Karneval in Gelmeroda II
  • Signed Feininger (lower left)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 27 1/4 by 21 1/2 in.
  • 69.2 by 54.6 cm


Estate of the artist

Private Collection (by descent from the above and sold: Christie's, London, June 25, 2002, lot 28)

Acquired at the above sale


New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc. & Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection, Exhibition Lyonel Feininger, 1985-86, no. 18, illustrated in color

New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Lyonel Feininger, At the Edge of the World, 2011, no. 35, illustrated in color in the catalogue


Hans Hess, Lyonel Feininger, London, 1961, no. 28, catalogued p. 250

"Lyonel Feininger - Frühe Werke" Du : die Zeitschrift für Kunst und Kultur, vol. 46, 1986, Zurich, no. 5

Ulrich Luckhardt, Lyonel Feininger, Munich, 1989, illustrated p. 128

Lyonel Feininger: Gelmeroda, ein Maler und sein Motiv (exhibition catalogue), Stuttgart, 1995, no. 1, illustrated in color p. 33

Christiane Weber, Lyonel Feininger, genial-verfemt-berühmt, Weimar, 2007, discussed p. 18


Excellent condition. Original canvas. The highly-textured surface is intact and evidences rich impasto that is well-preserved. Under UV light, a few old hairline retouches at extreme top edge are visible, but otherwise the canvas is untouched.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Karneval in Gelmeroda II was painted shortly after Feininger moved back to Germany after having spent the previous two years living in Paris. Fresh from his experience of avant-garde art and the legendary circle of the Café du Dôme, the artist and his young family moved into a spacious rented villa in Zehlendorf, a suburb of Berlin. The following four years, from 1908 to 1912, marked a period of self-discovery for the artist, as he travelled regularly around the Weimar region visiting its towns and drawing inspiration for his work. The church in the town of Gelmeroda drew a particular interest which the artist continuously came back to and elaborated on over the following years.  Karneval in Gelmeroda II is of the first fully executed painting Feininger created using the motifs of the church of Gelmeroda after having composed a series of sketches and drawings.

In his monograph about the artist, Hans Hess further explores Feininger's artistic process, "Feininger's use of color is as direct as that of the Fauve painters, but his choice of colors is subtle and strange. The color disharmonies are softer and the mood created more dreamlike. A mauvish pink predominates, countered by strong blues and greens. The colors live by the subtle violence of their disharmonies. In his pictures of this period the human figure plays a dominant part, but neither the figures nor the settings in which they move pretend to be real... The figures in silhouette reveal Feininger's preoccupation with the outline as the sum of all possible views of an object. The silhouette contains the body in all its movements... The picture excludes emotional participation; it is a painting of movement and place. It is a comic scene, but essentially a study in space and speed" (H. Hess, op. cit., pp. 47-48).

The individual elements of the composition are constructed out of geometric, mostly triangular shapes, and appear to be pasted onto the surface of the picture – an aesthetic that foreshadows Matisse’s cut-outs of the 1940s. The central male figure is dressed as a clown and walks with a bright orange stick, the same color used to outline the edges of the church behind him.  This work shows the first use of Feininger’s distinctive spotting technique which he uses variantly throughout the composition. Through the pictorial devices of perspective and figural distortions, as well as eccentricities of color, the artist transforms the scene into a world where the strange and the familiar are inextricably linked.

 As Hess further noted, “Feininger had no theory of painting; he had that sense for contemporary reality that makes a painter an artist of his time. His thought was as much involved in his work as were his eyes. He was trying to obtain clarity, and he analyzed his own work, but he was not working in accordance with a theory, either his own or borrowed. The laws he obeyed were the laws of the picture as it revealed its structure, the laws of nature as he transposed them into his art. He did not impose a law of his invention; he transposed the laws that he observed. He revealed patterns; he did not invent them” (ibid., p. 68).

The present work refers to another painted the following year titled Die Zeitungsleser, particularly with the dominant church and architecture in the background providing a fixed point of reference in contrast to the diagonal movement of the figures. Outlined in vivid colors, the figures appear in relief against the background. Feininger’s experience as a graphic artist gave him a creative advantage when it came to rendering dimension in his painting. He was extraordinarily capable of conveying spatial depth without being reliant upon gradations of color or details. With its pictorial style and its color scheme, the present work represents a synthesis of the various developments that shaped the artist’s oeuvre.