One of the most highly regarded teachers at the Bauhaus, Feininger sought to encourage all aspects of art and creativity within his students. Although specifically Master of Printmaking it was the “extraordinary impression upon the Bauhaus students, which stemmed from [his] human qualities … and his loving empathy for the existential quandaries of young men” which made him such an indelible asset to the school (Walter Gropius, cited in: Michael Siebenbrodt, Lyonel Feininger at the State Bauhaus, New York 2012, p. 86).
During his tenure at the Bauhaus through to his return to New York in 1937 Feininger painted very few oils. His work, instead, focused primarily around two themes in watercolour: The landscape of Deep; a village where he would spend his summers surrounded by his young family, and the image of the lone ship at sea in full sail.
The image of the ship recurred throughout Feininger’s career. Deeply influenced by Cubism, as well as Kandinsky’s teaching on colour, Feininger strove towards a modern geometric style. In the ship Feininger had the perfect subject for his experimentation. From as early as 1925 he made model boats, taking them to the banks of the Rega, where he would race them with his young children, often photographing the ships from close range. In doing so he removed the boats from a sense of scale creating an isolated and otherworldly image. It was from these photograph studies that Feininger was able to create larger watercolours often re-imagining the natural curves as structured geometric lines.
Deep offered Feininger an opportunity to return to the simple pleasures of sketching in nature – something that afforded him ‘ecstatic pleasure’ reminding him of his childhood and the pure love of drawing. Deep was a refuge for Feininger – a place that he would wish for throughout his later life in America. The watercolours from this period use a simple paired back palette often focusing on the lines and architecture of the buildings, in accordance with his Bauhaus colleagues.
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