Achim Moeller, 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. 1475-01-08-18.
The figure of the church emerged early on in Feininger’s career and would remain one of the most important motifs in his life’s work. Yellow Village Church II belongs to this wider body of work as Feininger found inspiration in the medieval towns of Thuringia in East Central Germany, first during visits around the region between 1908 and 1912 and later continuing throughout his life in Germany prior to his return to the United States of America in 1937.
Feininger’s most famous woodcut, The Cathedral of Socialism (fig. 1) from 1919, was used to illustrate the Bauhaus manifesto, after his appointment by Walter Gropius as master of form for the printing workshop at the Weimar campus in May 1919, a position he would retain until 1925. Feininger began to use the woodcut medium in 1918, the stark black and white of this work and its broad, hand-crafted line reflects a distinctly rustic technique, conveying an homage to the medieval Late Gothic craft guilds revered in the ideals and aspirations of the school. The figure of the cathedral here is a hopeful symbol, stretching skyward and depicted with a sense of majesty and monumentality, crowned with three stars, signifying fine arts, the applied arts and architecture.
Conceived shortly afterwards, in 1921, Feininger first executed the composition Yellow Village Church II (Prasse, no. W 240) as a woodcut, the composition explored in a series of three works, numbered respectively I, II and III, depicting different inversions of his theme. Achim Moeller observes that these compositions have their origin in the drawings from 1913 entitled Village Church, showing a lineage of the evolving composition throughout his career, culminating in a correlating trilogy of paintings, Yellow Village Church I (Hess, no. 281) in 1927, the present work Yellow Village Church II in 1933 and Yellow Village Church III (Hess, no. 382; fig. 2) in 1937.
The strong linear elements and dynamic contrasts in the present composition clearly reference the medium of its inception, the black blocks of the steeple and foreground boldly harping back to the woodcut medium. Luminous yellow bathes his subject in divine light, with hints of blue, green and orange in translucent planes determining spatial relationships, revealing Feininger’s masterfully eccentric language of colour, developed in his own distinctive direction since his early encounters with Robert Delaunay’s Orphist colour theories during his sojourn in Paris in 1911. Speaking of the work's earlier incarnation from 1927, Hans Hess comments: "Colour now plays the new vital part that Feininger had discovered for it. In Yellow Village Church I, the planes do not interpenetrate with a dynamically directed force but, in their transparency, create the intersections of their existence in space, removed in distance from the observer like a world transmuted behind a curtain of glass." (H. Hess, H. Hess, Lyonel Feininger, Stuttgart, 1959, p. 114).
Painted in 1933, the present work, Yellow Village Church II was created during increasingly difficult times for Feininger. After a long period under threat, in 1932, the Bauhaus in Dessau, where Feininger taught, was closed on the orders of the newly elected Nazi district council. The Feiningers, like so many of their friends and colleagues at the Bauhaus, were subsequently obliged to move and seek what would become an ever more difficult way of making a living elsewhere. Feininger would live with his wife, Julia, between the coastal resort of Deep, on the Baltic coast, and Berlin. He worked little during this period and felt an increasing sense of isolation and alienation as the political repression of the Nazi regime took hold throughout the country.
The first work from this series having been conceived at the outset of the First World War, presents a dramatic parallel in the charged emotion of historical events, in line with the third and final painting completed in 1937, on the brink of the Second World War. This was the same year he would be included in Hitler’s “degenerate” art exhibition, prompting Feininger’s move back to the United States of America, the country of his birth. Feininger set about depicting churches and cathedrals as he was preparing to leave, as Hess remarks "The remaining paintings of Feininger's last German period were all painted in 1936-1937. In Yellow Village Church III, one can see a beginning of a new striving for monumentality". Again, the artist returned to this motif, perhaps as a parting gesture or to meditate upon their survival throughout the course of history, a vision of hope and freedom, as envisaged in the The Cathedral of Socialism from so many years before. Alois J. Schardt observes the evolution of this theme in his essay published in 1944, for Feininger’s joint retrospective exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, where Yellow Village Church I would be exhibited:
“…Churches, standing alone or surrounded by houses, become another and still more fruitful motive. The first picture of this series is Teltow I. Houses rise on the slope of a hill, their diagonal gables and horizontal roofs interlocking. They are again the means to demonstrate the theme of rising and falling, of ascending and descending. The dramatic tension increases in rich modulation to the point where the diagonal forms becoming steeper, lead up to the vertical of the tower, which disentangles itself from the confusion of houses and rises into freedom. The forces of the airy heights gather around the tower and like a sheltering roof embrace church and houses. There are numerous variations on this theme. Looking at the pictures of Zirchow, Teltow, Gelmeroda, Benz, Mellingen, Vollersroda, and others, we can imagine organ tones, the polyphony of a fugue by Bach, the ringing sound of church bells. The tower stands guard; and at the same time it reaches upward. It is a symbol of man's striving toward security and freedom. The greater is the shock when, under the stress of the First World War, this tower begins to shake in the picture of Markwippach. Lacking all brightness and joy, its colours gleam lurid and dark. The powers of heaven rush down upon it; dislocated, the nave and surrounding houses collapse. As the tower crumbles all stability and unity dissolve.” (Alois J. Schardt, “Lionel Feininger” in D. C. Miller (ed.), Lyonel Feininger, Marsden Hartley, Exh. Cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1944, p. 17).
Christie’s is honoured to present the following selection of works from the collection of the highly respected financier and patron of the arts, Wilhelm Reinold (1895-1979). Assembled over the course of two decades, this diverse collection of paintings and prints stands as a testament not only to Reinold’s discerning eye, but also his deep appreciation for art of the early Twentieth Century.
Although born in Wuppertal, Reinold’s banking career truly flourished in the German city of Hamburg, where he earned a reputation as an astute and intelligent thinker, characteristics which would eventually lead him to become a board member of the city’s commerzbank. While he had maintained a general interest in the arts throughout his life, a gift of a Paul Klee drawing on the occasion of his 65th birthday inspired Reinold to begin a prolific collecting journey that would occupy him throughout the 1960s and 1970s. During this time he amassed an enviable collection of modern art, acquiring vibrant, compelling works from painters as diverse as Marc Chagall and Max Beckmann to Lyonel Feininger and Gabriele Münter. He also developed key friendships with several notable artists, including Oskar Kokoschka, whom he commissioned to create a panoramic view of the Hamburg harbour from a crane of the Stülcken-Werft shipyard in the early 1960s. Alongside his collecting activities he was also a generous patron and philanthropist, donating several important artworks to local museums and galleries in Hamburg, and providing financial assistance to a number of artistic institutions.
While Reinold’s artistic tastes were varied and wide-ranging, several themes appear to have underpinned his collecting habits. For example, he held a particular interest in the art of his homeland, acquiring paintings by many of the leading figures of the German avant-garde during the first half of the twentieth century, including Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde and the Die Brücke artists Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. There is also a strong focus on figurative representation in his acquisitions, while many works appear to have been chosen for their powerfully expressionistic approach to colour. Indeed, the collection is filled with paintings that utilise luminous, vibrant pigments to bring a bold sense of energy and life to their subject matter. Other works offer an insight into the internal battles which occupied their creators during pivotal moments in their careers. Whether in the midst of experimenting with a new painterly style or investigating alternative media, they capture painting in its rawest and most vigorous form, as each artist strives to translate their subjective vision of the world onto their canvases with an intensity and passion that reflects their experiences.