The striving for the sublime is considered the trademark of the German aesthetics of the last two centuries. In The Romantic Spirit in German Art, 1790-1990, Iain Boyd Whyte quotes Ronald Taylor, pointing out that: 'In German culture one may... legitimately talk of a Romantic tradition which has a central position in the unfolding of the modern German spiritual, intellectual and political life and in the constitution of the national German psyche... It is a complex tradition, drawn from a complex pattern of historical impulses, the reality of whose existence is not disproven by difficulties of definition'. He adds: 'Among the myriad complexities, the aesthetic and emotional engagement with the intangible, the unrepresentable and the unknowable is a recurring element in German painting, not only during the Romantic period but over the last two centuries. From the Alpine landscapes of the 1800s to the painting of the Junge Wilden in the 1970s and 1980s, a recurring preoccupation in German painting has been the attempt to capture or portray on canvas ideas or visions that transcend our powers of imagination. Central to this tradition, both chronologically and emotionally, are the visionary images of German Expressionism, produced in the first two decades of the twentieth century' (London, 1994, p. 138).
Painted in 1925, one year after the founding of the Blauen Vier, Wolke II epitomises Feininger's debt to the icons of Romanticism - above all, Friedrich's monumental landscapes (fig. 1) - which became crucial references in his quest for a new, pure, anti-objective representation of nature.
In the summer of 1924, Feininger first visited the village of Deep, on the Pomeranian coast at the mouth of the Rega and not far from the town of Treptow, where he returned almost every year until 1936. The view of the sea mesmerised him, and became a rich source of inspiration. Fifteen years after his visits to Heringsdorf, where he had been intrigued by the life of the beach and had focussed on the bathers crowding the shore, he was now able to change his compositions dramatically, in a leap towards abstraction. In his mid-1920s seascapes, he made use of his new awareness of the pictorial space - acquired though his architectural studies - to produce stylised observations of the inter-relations of the sky and sea.
The chromatic exploration of this series finds their most appropriate comment in Feininger's letters to his wife Julia: 'The sea is beautiful, and more isolated and lonely than I ever saw it. You never see a ship on this stretch of coast... they pass so far out at sea that one only sees a plume of smoke in the horizon... The sky in the west was green and yellow after a heavy thunderstorm, glistening incredibly behind the crooked trees. The sea was gold, more copper in colour than that green sky. Another heavy thunderstorm moved in from the west; the shadow side of the huge cloud was peacock blue over the warm dunes' (28 June 1924).