He was born in New York in 1871. His parents were both musicians, and when he left for Germany in his late teens, they believed it was to study music. Feininger, however, was attracted to the visual arts and enrolled at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Hamburg.
At the start of his career, he had success as a political cartoonist for German periodicals and as a comic-strip illustrator for The Chicago Tribune. The style of that work fed into his early paintings: whimsical scenes of German village life, rendered in unnatural colours and featuring elongated figures.
Feininger moved briefly to Paris, and his style changed for good in around 1912, after he had assimilated some of the lessons of Cubism, Orphism and Futurism. His pictures now boasted multi-faceted forms and planes of translucent colour, which created a sense of looking through a prism.
His work so impressed the Blaue Reiter (‘Blue Rider’) group of German Expressionists that Feininger was invited to exhibit with them. As the years passed, architecture became an ever-greater feature in his art. The spire of the Gothic church in Gelmeroda, a village outside Weimar, would provide a constant source of inspiration.
After World War I, Walter Gropius appointed Feininger to the faculty of the Bauhaus. Gropius also used his woodcut Cathedral to illustrate the cover of the school’s manifesto.
Feininger remained at the Bauhaus until its closure by the Nazis in 1933. The Nazis went on to declare his art ‘degenerate’ and remove almost 400 of his works from German collections in 1937, the same year that he decided to move back to the US.
The skyscrapers of Manhattan came to fascinate him and pop up frequently in his later art. Feininger died in 1956, aged 84. He has been the subject of a number of retrospectives, including one at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 2011, which later transferred to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
American Navigation (Design for Mural, Marine Transportation Building, New York World’s Fair, 1939-1940)
Mural for the Marine Transportation Building, New York World's Fair 1939