Achim Mœller, Managing Principal of The Lyonel Feininger Project LLC, confirmed the authenticity of this work. The work is registered in the archives of The Lyonel Feininger Project LLC, New York – Berlin with the no. 1304-12-18-14.
The work will be included in Volume II of the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings by Lyonel Feininger edited by Achim Mœller.
Windmill is a powerful example of the potency of Feininger’s otherworldly aesthetic. Poetically capturing the duality of his Romantic nostalgia for the past, which is rendered with a uniquely modern sensibility, and his enthrallment for the mechanical and technological inventions of the day, Windmill serves to highlight Feininger’s unique and individual style of painting.
Feininger’s work is often compared to that of the Cubists, who he exhibited alongside in the 1911 Salon des Indépendants, seen most notably in his dissection of form and space. However one cannot judge him purely by such terms, other influences can be seen to be at play; the Orphist simultaneity of colour and definition of light as force and the Futurist technique of rendering physical movement by jagged angular lines. Indeed, one should view Feininger’s work as independent of any artistic movement, for his visual vocabulary is as much about an exploration of the realm of his personal fantasy and a search for the synthesis of reality and imagination, than it is a pursuit of an aesthetic philosophy. Feininger highlighted the technical difference between the two, citing: ‘Cubism is a synthesis, but may easily be degraded into mechanism… My “cubism”… is visionary, not physical’ (Feininger, quoted in P. Selz, Lyonel Feininger, Exh. cat., New York, 1969, p. 7).
Feininger, an American national who moved to Germany aged sixteen in 1887, where he lived for over forty years, often expressed a sense of being ‘stateless’, discerning: ‘In Germany I was “der Amerikaner”; here in my native land I was sometimes classified and looked upon as a German painter’ (Feininger quoted in Lyonel Feininger, Marsden Hartley, exh. cat., New York, 1944). This sense of isolation is felt in his work, seen most poignantly in Windmill, where a lone windmill sits amidst an angular and broken, jagged world, dwarfed by the endless expanse of the sky. Set upon an unstable, tilted ground, the windmill is seen slowly, dangerously edging towards the brink, imbuing a sense of frailty and ominance to the picture. These feelings of remoteness and alienation, instilled with an air of the sinister, were not uncommon in Feininger’s work, especially those of the 1930s that respond to the mounting political tensions in Germany and the ever growing threat he and his family felt under the Nazi regime. One of the most powerful paintings of this period is The Red Fiddler, 1934, that describes his dismay at the violence of humanity, which he expressed in a letter to his wife Julia in 1935: ‘people today are walking in a dream, in a mechanized, dehumanized compulsion’ (Feininger, quoted in U. Luckhardt, Lyonel Feininger, Munich, 1989, p. 43).
From 1930 the Nazis began their campaign against the ‘defamation’ of modern art, dismantling works from museums, confiscating private pictures and organising ‘degenerate’ exhibitions, such as Entartete Kunste that opened on the 19th July 1937 and included twenty-four Feininger works, which aimed to clarify what art was ‘un-German’ and therefore unacceptable. Feininger, unsurprisingly, produced few works between 1932 and 1936 and when he did often worked with a somber and rather melancholic palette. The present work, with its bright orange and yellow hues, paired with the vivid blue and red of the windmill, is, therefore, a rare example of paintings of the period. Feininger’s sunnier outlook can perhaps be attributed to the excitement of his teaching trip to California the same year, on the invitation of the Mills College in Oakland. Or, as is more likely, it can be seen as a disengagement from the horrors of reality, as was customary for Feininger, and the result of retreat into his own world, where he was free to explore his own fantasies. He explained: ‘One can choose between living in the midst of turmoil… or withdrawing from today’s over-activity, carrying with one’s mind and heart the picture of this world according to one’s consciousness’ (Feininger, quoted in B. Haskell, Lyonel Feininger At the Edge of the World, Exh. cat., New York, 2011, p. 141).