Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lyonel Feininger

Today it's not so common, but in the 1800s, there was tremendous pressure on young boys, especially a first-born boy, and particularly if that first-born boy happened to be an only child, to follow in his father's footsteps. It was a time, of course, when the father often trained his son (or occasionally a daughter) in his particular trade, either because it was an inexpensive way to further the boy's education or because he was needed in the family business. And, sometimes it was just a matter of a father's pride, hoping perhaps that the son might outshine him in his inherited endeavor. It made little difference if the father was a practitioner of some practical craft such as carpentry or in some way involved in the fine arts. On July 17, 1871, Karl Feininger, a violinist and first generation emigrant from Germany, and his American wife, Elizabeth, who was a singer, gave birth to a young son they called Lyonel.

Gabendorf II,1924, Lyonel Feininger
The boy was barely nine years of age when his father started giving him violin lessons. There's no indication whether is mother was also trying to teach him to sing. The boy tried, really he did, but his aptitude in the fine arts lay not in music but in drawing. He was especially fascinated by steamboats and trains. Being touring musicians, his parents took him with them to Germany where he studied drawing at Hamburg and later the Royal Academy in Berlin under the painter Ernst Hancke. It was there he developed a talent for caricature. Studying at the Jesuit College of St. Servais in Liege, he also developed an interest in painting and drawing architecture. But it was in Paris at the Cafe du Dome, hanging out with other German students, that he met Henri Matisse, and the ghosts of Cezanne, Van Gogh, and William Turner. He painted, but his livelihood came from drawing cartoons and caricatures for both American and German magazines such as Harper's Round Table, Harper's Young People, Humoristische Blatter, and Berliner Tagelblatt.  Eventually these led to comic strips for the Chicago Sunday Tribune--The Kin-der-Kids and Wee-Willie Winkie.

The Kin-Der-Kids, 1906, Lyonel Feininger
Married, divorced, and remarried, with four kids to support, his painting career lagged well behind his drawing, cartooning, and woodcuts. Even exhibits with the Secessionist Group and Die Brucke, followed by Cubist works had only a minor impact on his reputation as a painter. However, with the opening of the Bauhaus School in Weimar in 1919, he became the official "artist in residence," teaching, painting, and exhibiting with Walter Gropius' group of modern German artists. He moved with them first to Dessau and then to Berlin before Hitler closed the school in 1937. Seeing his work included by Hitler in the widely traveled "Degenerate Show," as well as the Nazi handwriting on the wall, and after fifty years of being an American artist in German, Feininger came back to the USA to become a German artist in America. Teaching at Mills College in San Diego, and exhibiting in New York, Lyonel Feininger found not only success as a painter himself, but also saw his son, T. Lux Feininger (born, 1910), become a noted artist as well. It must have been a poignant, following-in-my-footsteps sense of satisfaction his own father had never known.
Brig in a Gale, 1936, T. Lux Feininger

No comments:

Post a Comment