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The following eleven drawings and watercolours by Lyonel Feininger are being sold to benefit the Lyonel Feininger Catalogue Raisonné Project initiated in the late 1980s by the dealer and art historian Achim Moeller.
The Lyonel Feininger Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume I (1907-1918), compiled and annotated by Mr. Moeller, is planned for publication in the autumn of 2006 on the fiftieth anniversary of the artist's death. The publication will coincide with an exhibition of Feininger's work at the Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal, Germany. The second and third volumes of the catalogue raisonné, covering the years 1919-1937 and 1938-1956 are scheduled for publication in 2008 and 2010 respectively.
One of the foremost artists of his generation, Lyonel Feininger was also one of the great draughtsmen of the 20th Century. After studying art in Paris, the American-born Feininger began his artistic career in Germany making comic and satirical drawings for popular periodicals such as Ulk and Lustige Blätter, soon establishing himself as one of the leading caricaturists of the age. Georg Hermann, in his 1901 book on Caricature in Germany in the 19th Century declared Feininger to be 'first among the Berlin caricaturists' and an artist who had 'acquired his own individual style... typical of Berlin'.
Establishing the roots of the highly graphic nature of his future art, caricature was to prove to be just a beginning for Feininger. After the commercial and critical success of his comic strips 'The Kin-der-Kids' and 'Wee-Willie Winkie's World' in the Chicago Tribune, and with the encouragement of his new wife Julia, Feininger, at the relatively late age of 36, set out to become a full-time artist. In July 1906 he returned to Paris and to the Académie Colarossi to study painting. The first of the eleven drawings offered for sale, an exquisite study of Parisian rooftops-complete with the strong geometry and angular perspective that would characterise his later Cubist paintings dates from this period.
For Feininger drawing was a constant activity almost akin to seeing. He carried a notebook with him at all times and was always ready to record any detail, view or phenomenon that caught his eye in the series of drawings that he called his 'Natur Notizen' or 'Notes from Nature' often became the starting point for later paintings. Many of these drawings established themes that he would repeatedly work on and gradually develop using coloured crayons and pastels and subsequently creating fully-worked watercolours and oils.
As with his paintings, Feininger's drawings tend to centre around only a few themes. One of the first of these to emerge in his work is Feininger's love of the city and his fascination with architecture. The unique character and charm of the imaginary 'City at the End of the World' that he defined in his early paintings, using the flat planes and highly architectonic nature of his later style of cubism, is well documented. Here, however, in two early drawings of Parisian buildings, and in a late atmospheric watercolour of a towering metropolis made in New York in 1952, Feininger's refined sensitivity to the way in which architecture can be used to define the mood of a picture is also revealed. In addition to these cityscapes there is an energetic sketch of railworkers on the outskirts of Berlin. Drawn in 1910, this work is a fascinating example of social observation that documents the almost Wild Western character seen in the constant growth and expansion of the great German metropolis. It precedes a very different and revealing preparatory study of Meudon on the outskirts of Paris and its viaduct made in 1911. Feininger had returned to Paris that year to find it 'agog with Cubism', and there he sought an individualised vision beginning to 'transform' and 'crystallise' the forms within his own work in an attempt to convey an 'inner expression' of his subject. Many of Feininger's greatest paintings from this critical period are distinguished by the dramatic and expressive use of the viaducts of Meudon and Arcueil as a backdrop.
It was ultimately in his repetitive studies and paintings of the village churches of Gelmeroda, Zirchow and Benz that Feininger would eventually arrive at the new 'crystallised' and very personal form of Cubism that he had begun to pursue in Paris in 1911. Included in this group of drawings is an early and brilliantly coloured drawing of the church at Benz made during one of Feininger's habitual summer stays on the Baltic coast. It is accompanied by another richly coloured drawing from 1909 of a barn at sunset made three days later. Feininger's regular summer visits to the Baltic coast generated a number of the key themes in his art, one of which is the subject of bathers on the shoreline. He made a sequence of paintings on this theme around this time and repeatedly returned to the subject on various occasions throughout his life. One of the first studies of this subject that he made in September 1911 is the coloured crayon drawing included here. Juxtaposing the flattened coloured forms of figures on the shore with the angular sails of ships on the horizon, this brilliantly composed drawing anticipates several of Feininger's finest paintings of Badende.
The other great perennial theme of Feininger's art inspired by his summers on the Baltic coast also was that of ships at sea. There are two very different works in this group of works depicting ships, both of them fully-developed ink and watercolour paintings signed and titled by the artist. The first, dating from Feininger's last year in Germany and painted at a time when the image of ships at sea often signified dreams of freedom and escape- for the now isolated and 'degenerate' artist had been dismissed from his post at the Bauhaus- is Ships with Swedish Flag II. The other painting, Gentle Swell of 1947, establishes a complete contrast in style and mood. Echoing the work of old master painters and in particular that of J.M.W. Turner, whose paintings Feininger had deliberately sought out on a visit to England in 1908, it is a masterly expression of stillness and calm.
The final work in this group of eleven drawings and watercolours is a deeply romantic landscape painting executed in 1953, two years before the artist's death. Entitled Evening Clouds over the Dunes at Deep, it depicts a scene well known to Feininger and clearly dear to his heart. On 6th August 1924, while on holiday in the Baltic town of Deep that he visited every year, Feininger witnessed the strange phenomenon of a cloud formation after a storm over the beach that took the form of a giant bird. As always, Feininger had his sketchbook by his side and recorded this play of nature in a drawing that he subsequently worked up into a watercolour and a large oil painting, which he completed in 1926. This same bird-cloud appears in a subtler and less obvious formation in a misty and deeply atmospheric watercolour included here, that depicts the same beach at Deep, which no doubt was painted as much from memory as from earlier sketches. Its misty vista echoes the deep romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich's Monk by the Sea. With its long evening shadows and vague apparition of a bird taking to the air, this semi-abstract painting is a profound and moving work heavily imbued with an atmosphere of longing and nostalgia.
FROM THE COLLECTION OF ACHIM MOELLER, SOLD TO THE BENEFIT THE LYONEL FEININGER CATALOGUE RAISONNE PROJECT