February 15, 2011

Woodcuts by Lyonel Feininger

        My parents have had this woodcut by Lyonel Feininger hanging in their living room since they were hip young newlyweds.  As a child I never liked it much, but as I got older I found that it grew on me.  From disliking the harsh lines and the abstractions that weren't, in my opinion, pretty, I've come to enjoy Feininger's angles and lighting.

        Feininger was born in New York in 1871, but moved to Berlin when he was 16.  He started his artistic career as a caricaturist and cartoonist before he turned to fine art.  He associated with the Expressionist art movements Die Brücke, and Blaue Reiter, and for a while taught printmaking at the Bauhaus, with its emphasis on modernism, craftsmanship, and art for the masses.  Feininger moved back to the US after his work was labelled "Degenerate" by the Nazis in 1936.  (Plus, his wife was partly Jewish.)  He died in 1956.
        You can see lots of elements of expressionism and modernism in his work, and aspects of Cubism.  But, perhaps unexpectedly, you can also see his love of Gothic architecture.  The woodcuts of Feininger's that I like best are those with the architecture, and those with sailing ships, which he clearly also loved.  Some of his woodcuts remind me of patchwork quilts in the way that the image is built up out of geometric shapes added together like blocks.
        I'm very grateful to my parents for exposing me to some first class original art as a child - even if I didn't appreciate all of it at the time.  (But I'm afraid I still can't stand their engraving by Ensor!)
[Pictures: Village Church, woodcut by Feininger, 1931;
Ships at Harbor, woodcut by Feininger, 1937 (MoMA collection);
Lighthouse, woodcut by Feininger, 1918 (published 1941) (MoMA collection);
Gelmeroda Village and Church, woodcut by Feininger, 1920;
Church, woodcut by Feininger, 1918 (MoMA collection).]

(Thanks to the MoMA Collection web site, with tons of great images.)


Anonymous said...

I’ve been holding off commenting on your wonderful posting about the woodcuts of Lyonel Feininger chiefly because I wanted to see what others have to say about his artwork. We are well into March and it’s been over a month since the posting, and yet nothing has been written in response. This, to me, is a sad commentary on what stirs contemporary readers. People get heated about vampires. Fairies and unicorns stir their neck hairs. And yet when you write about one of the masters of the genre, no one is moved to comment. What Feininger does so well is make his case without cluttering and confusing his message. Just look at that church or his more impressive one of Gelmeroda and you marvel at the economy of his line and shading. Those sailing ships virtually reek of tarred timbers and sea life. And that final church view literally glistens with sanctity. With a few cuts this guy captures the essence of his subjects. And your posting highlights his gifts. I cannot let it go without remark. Keep up the high standards of your blog.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Well, naturally I agree with praise of Feininger, and I appreciate your words of encouragement. But be fair! After all, this is a blog about fantasy as well as block prints... and I've never said a word about unicorns! ;D