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Lyonel Feininger

1871–1956

1 WORK ONLINE OF 6 WORKS IN THE MUSEUM COLLECTION
Lyonel Feininger, Gelmeroda, VIII, 1921. Oil on canvas, 39 1/4 × 31 1/4 in. (99.7 × 79.4 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase  53.38
© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Lyonel Feininger was an American artist but spent most of his life in Germany. Just as he balanced two national identities, he also moved between playful, figurative compositions and geometric abstraction. He began his career as an illustrator, creating caricatures and comic strips for German and American newspapers and magazines, but at the age of thirty-six, he quit his job to devote himself full-time to being an artist. In his early paintings, Feininger drew on his illustration skills to depict the energy and activity of street life—including carnivals, games, and cyclists—with bright colors and bold outlines. In his later work, he used faceted, geometric forms and transparent planes of color to express his vision of the modern world in a unique and spiritual way.

Inspiration

Feininger was inspired by music. He once said: “Music is the language of my innermost self which stirs me like no other form of expression.” He played and composed music. In the early 1920s, he composed pieces of music called fugues, and these compositions influenced his painting.

“The most beautiful landscape cannot hold my fascinated attention as much as nature by the seaside and all that is connected with water.”

—Lyonel Feininger

Materials

Toys

In 1913, Feininger had a job designing wooden toy trains for a German company. He continued to make small, hand-painted toy sculptures for much of his life, gifting them first to his children, then to friends and their children. The toy figures, trains, buildings, and boats that he created were also among the subjects of his paintings and prints.

About the artist
Lyonel Feininger worked in a wide variety of art forms. He was a painter, printmaker, illustrator, comic-strip artist, photographer, and toy maker. Like many artists today, Feininger lived and worked in different countries throughout his life. Although he spent fifty years abroad, he was born in New York City and always thought of himself as an American.

Photography

Feininger was interested in light and atmosphere and he took photographs throughout his career. He photographed water, fog, and snow as well as the reflections in street puddles and reflections on buildings and windows at night. He used some of his photographs as inspiration for his paintings. 

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