Lyonel Feininger was born in New York City on July 17, 1871. Feininger’s parents were musicians who fostered their son’s love for music, an interest he retained throughout his life. In 1887, Feininger visited Germany with his parents, intending to study music there. But he instead developed an interest in art and enrolled in Hamburg’s Kunstgewerbeschule. Feininger adopted Germany as his second home, supporting himself by drawing political cartoons. This provided a steady income that enabled Feininger to move to Paris for two years, and while there, he studied the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionist artists. Returning to Germany, he devoted all his time to his art.
During later trips to Paris, Feininger became interested in the cubist style. Attracted to the vivid, faceted paintings of Robert Delaunay, Feininger’s began to explore cubism, breaking his forms into planes of color. Like Delaunay, his chosen subject was the city; for Feininger, German towns with their Gothic cathedrals and surrounding landscapes. In 1913, he was invited to exhibit his works with the German “Blue Rider” group, whose members advocated an expressive, abstract style, which appealed to the young Feininger. In 1919, he joined the faculty of the Bauhaus, where he taught alongside the leading modern artists and architects of the day. Feininger remained on the Bauhaus faculty until the Nazis closed the school in 1933. Up until this time, his art was collected and featured in many museums throughout Germany, but under Hitler’s rule, his works and those of his fellow modern artists were banned and removed from public view.
In the mid-1930s, Feininger returned to the United States, where he had not lived since his departure in 1887. He went to California, where a number of German émigré artists had settled, and began teaching at Mills College in Oakland. In 1938 he moved permanently to New York, and was invited to provide murals for the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Feininger worked with equal ease in many media: oil painting, watercolor, and woodcut. He focused on a limited range of subjects, most with clear architectural motifs: views of the city with its factories and harbors, architectural landscapes, all portrayed in prisms of luminous, transparent color. From the 1940s on, his work received much acclaim, and he received awards from the Metropolitan Museum and the Worcester Art Museum. Feininger’s art has been exhibited and collected widely by major museums and galleries in the United States and abroad.