Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956)
Property of the Andreas Feininger Trust under the Will of Julie Feininger Christie's is honored to be selling Lyonel Feininger's Silbersternbild from the Property of the Andreas Feininger Trust under the Will of Julie Feininger. A remarkably individualistic artist, who forged a unique path throughout his long and varied career, Lyonel Feininger's oeuvre occupies an important position in the canon of both European and American art. Born in New York in 1871 to German immigrant parents, Lyonel Feininger returned to Germany at the age of 16 to study music. Although music maintained a vital role in his life, his passion was for the visual arts and after his arrival in Germany, his parents, both musicians, permitted him to pursue drawing. He studied at the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule in Hamburg, followed by the Königliche Akademie in Berlin and acheived his first commercial success in 1890, when he published some of his satirical drawings with the Berlin based comic magazine Humoristische Blätter. Feininger was introduced to the early forms of Cubism, a movement which would have a significant impact upon his oeuvre, on a trip to Paris in 1911. Despite being associated with the expressionist groups Die Brücke and Die Blaue Reiter, Feininger would never fully become an expressionist. He was, however, a formative member of Die Blaue Vier, a group founded at the Bauhaus in Weimar in March 1924, along with fellow artists Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Alexej von Jawlensky. While other styles such as Futurism and Surrealism also influenced his work, his artistic output was uniquely his own. In the 1920s, Lyonel Feininger's oeuvre changed from the intense and tumultuous compositions of the war years, to a body of work which exuded a more calm and tranquil sensibility. His unique fusion of architecture and nature, achieved by the subtle application of transparent films of paint that appear to glow from within, created a unified pictorial form that Feininger would continue to explore in ensuing years. Indeed, most of Feininger's work was informed by the thought: "How would the world appear if it were slightly different?" (quoted in H. Hess, Lyonel Feininger, London, 1961, p .19).
Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956)


Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956)
signed 'Feininger' (upper right); titled 'Silbersternen' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
20 5/8 x 15 7/8 in. (52.4 x 40.4 cm.)
Painted in 1924
Estate of the artist.
Julie Feininger, New York (by descent from the above).
Andreas Feininger, New York (by descent from the above).
By bequest from the above to the present owner, 1999.
H. Hess, Lyonel Feininger, Stuttgart, 1959, p. 271, no. 250 (illustrated).
"Lyonel Feininger: Frühe Werke," DU: Die Zeitschrift für Kunst und Kultur 543, no. 5, 1986, 17-60 (illustrated in color on the cover).
R. März, ed., Lyonel Feininger. Von Gelmeroda nach Manhattan: Retrospektive der Gemälde, exh. cat., Nationalgalerie Berlin, 1998, p. 178 (illustrated).
P. Werner, Der Fall Feininger, Leipzig, 2006, no. 46 (illustrated in color, p. 158).
Dresden, Neue Kunst Fides, Lyonel Feininger, February-March 1928, no. 13.
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc. and Washington D.C., The Phillips Collection, Exhibition Lyonel Feininger, October 1985-February 1986, no. 46 (illustrated in color).
Halle, Staatliche Galerie Moritzburg and Wuppertal, Von der Heydt-Museum, Lyonel Feininger: Gelmeroda. Ein Maler und sein Motiv, April-July 1995, no. 9 (illustrated in color, p. 43).

Lot Essay

This catalogue entry was provided by Achim Moeller. Mr. Moeller will include this painting in the forthcoming volume II of his Feininger catalogue raisonné.

In 1924, Lyonel Feininger joined with Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky to form the Blaue Vier or Blue Four group. But it was a prior affiliation that more greatly influenced the painting Silbersternbild. In 1919, Walter Gropius had named Feininger Formmeister at the Bauhaus in Weimar. The artist's years as a commercial cartoonist and his preoccupation with architectural forms in his paintings proved relevant to the school's program of eliminating the distinction between fine and applied arts. The Feininger woodcut which appeared on the cover of the 1919 Bauhaus manifesto represented "the spirit of devoted craftsmanship in the modern world" that was so central to the school (fig. 1). This combination of "medieval mysticism" with "modern political thought," epitomized by the idea of a Cathedral of Socialism, anticipates the present painting's simultaneous spirituality and concreteness (H. Hess, op. cit., p. 89).

With this post came the extremely practical benefit of a new workspace, for "the studio the Bauhaus gave [Feininger] offered excellent working conditions, which was immediately reflected in his output" (U. Luckhardt, Lyonel Feininger, Munich, 1989, p. 39). This space allowed Feininger, who had been painting for just twelve years, to further develop his own pictorial language, in which he created a synthesis of Cubist form, Expressionist feeling and Orphist light. As early as 1907, he articulated to his second wife Julie Berg the notion that, "what one sees must be transformed in the mind and crystallized" (quoted in ibid., p. 21). Feininger's introduction to Cubism while in Paris in 1911 confirmed that he was on the right path.

But it was not until the 1920s that Feininger imbued these cubist structures with the incandescent glow that characterizes the present painting. Hans Hess sees this command of light as a turning point for the artist: "from the illumined plane Feininger advances to the luminous plane. The new phase may be called the transparent period" (op. cit., p. 92). No longer reflecting light from other sources, the forms radiate from within, to the extent that "the light in the picture seems to originate inside the painting itself" (ibid.). The stars and crescent moon, which virtually scintillate from the layered application of silver paint, accentuate this overall sense of effulgence. The transparency of the forms from which the edifices are built contrasts with their monumentality, inducing a tension that further activates the picture.

When Feininger initially left the United States for Germany, it was not to study painting, or even illustration, but the violin. In 1921, he returned to his musical roots and began to compose fugues, contrapuntal compositions whose elaborately and calculated design is analogous to the pictorial structure in works like Silbersternbild. The elements of fugal development on which Feininger ruminated included "the possibilities of inversion, of mirror effects of overlapping, and the interpenetration and synchronization of events" (ibid., p. 98). Such reflections and intersections find visual equivalents in the present painting.

There is an unfinished fragment of Gelmeroda painted on the reverse of the present lot.

(fig. 1) Lyonel Feininger, Cathedral of Socialism, woodcut, 1919.

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