Achim Moeller, Managing Principal of The Lyonel Feininger Project LLC, has 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. 1372-03-29-16.
Painted in 1933, Figures on the Seashore (Am Strand) was created during increasingly difficult times for Feininger. After a long period under threat, in 1932, the Bauhaus in Dessau, where Lyonel 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.
During this time, images of the sea populated his work. Amidst the increasing turmoil of the world around him, working by the sea provided the artist with a welcome escape: 'The most beautiful landscape cannot hold my fascinated attention as does nature by the sea, and all that is connected with the water…the moon hanging low over the horizon, shining behind a fantastically shaped cloud in the sky' (Feininger quoted in Lyonel Feininger, City and Sea, 1905-1955, exh. cat., London, 1998, p. 2).
The present work depicts a group of figures on the beach huddled together. A small ship sails among the waves to the right of the figures. The horizon line between the sea and the sky is barely distinguished, the blue of the water and sky merging into one vast expanse in front of the people. The sky is fractured and angular, with blue paint of varying richness. These observers on the shore, alone with the power and vastness of the natural world can be likened to the poignant human presence in the work of the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. However, there is an additional layer of meaning for Feininger, as a joyous, if also romanticized, image of individualist freedom and escape.
Feininger’s growing sense of isolation from the land he had adopted as his home led to him gradually abandoning the German language at this time in much of his correspondence, resorting in favor to his English mother-tongue. After he was forced by a local landlord in Deep, in the Summer of 1935, not to share accommodation with his Jewish wife Julia, the Feiningers sought to leave Germany for good. In the Spring of 1936 he returned with his family to America.