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Lyonel Feininger (1871 - 1956)

Lot 35: f - LYONEL FEININGER

Sotheby's

June 19, 2006
London, United Kingdom

More About this Item


Description

PROPERTY OF A TRUST UNDER THE WILL OF JULIA FEININGER

1871-1956
ANGLER MIT BLAUEM FISCH II (ANGLER WITH BLUE FISH II)

measurements
57 by 75cm.

alternate measurements
22 1/2 by 29 1/2 in.

Painted in 1912.

signed Feininger (lower right); dated Monday, April 29, 1912 on the stretcher

oil on canvas

PROVENANCE

Deposited by the artist for safekeeping with Herman Klumpp, Quedlinburg (circa 1934 until 1974)
Julia Feininger, New York (the artist's wife, inherited from the artist in 1956)
Estate of Julia Feininger (1970)
For safekeeping with the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Berlin (1974-84)
Recovered by the Executors of the Estate of Julia Feininger in 1984

EXHIBITED

New York, Acquavella Galleries & Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection, Exhibition Lyonel Feininger, 1985-86, no. 30, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin & Munich, Haus der Kunst, Lyonel Feininger -- Von Gelmeroda nach Manhattan, 1998-99, no. 15, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Lyonel Feininger. Menschenbilder. Eine unbekannte Welt, 2003-04, no. 88, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

LITERATURE

Hans Hess, Lyonel Feininger, London, 1961, no. 68, illustrated p. 254
Ulrich Luckhardt, Lyonel Feininger, Munich, 1989, illustrated in colour p. 67 and illustrated in colour on the dust-jacket
Petra Werner, Der Fall Feininger, Bonn, 2005, no. 30, illustrated in colour p. 142

NOTE

The sea, ships and people on the beach were important and recurring subjects throughout Lyonel Feininger's ~uvre, and Angler mit blauem Fisch II is a remarkably vibrant and striking rendering of one of his favourite themes. Painted in 1912, this work belongs to the period when the artist was strongly influenced by Cubism. Fascinated by the Cubists' technique of breaking up form, Feininger adapted their geometrical style while retaining the use of bright colours characteristic of his early work. In May 1911, Feininger spent two weeks in Paris where he discovered Cubism -- a style he had never encountered before, but which offered a pictorial solution to his own artistic enquiries and experimentations.

As Ulrich Luckhardt commented about the present work: 'The familiar depiction of the beach is beginning to fuse into individual forms; beach and sea become clearly defined planes stretching to the horizon line, and they are no longer only linear but are conceived as volume. Even more striking is the cloud formation reflected in the sea, where form is reinterpreted as corporeal plasticity. This development was to give rise to the major paintings of Feininger's early period, works in which he was able to move away from his previous approach, in form as well as content. Angler with Blue Fish marks the turning point. Although its figures, silhouetted against the sea, still relate to the early masquerades, Feininger's new approach to form predominates. The clear division of beach, sea, and sky into three dissimilar planes gives each element its own formal structure. The beach becomes a firm basic substance, firmly colored; the sea is a rhythmic movement of waves; the rays of the sun fan out into the layered atmosphere of the sky. The figures, the boats, the smoke from the paddle steamer - all are coordinated with this tripartite division. Only the two fishing rods, meeting to form an angle in the top right corner, break out of the scheme and create a spatial relationship that is free of the constraints of formal perspective' (U. Luckhardt, op. cit., p. 66).

The key event in the development of Feininger's art was the Salon des Indépendants held in Paris from April until June 1911, where he exhibited six of his paintings (fig. 1) alongside works by artists such as Henri Matisse, Robert Delaunay and Wassily Kandinsky as well as the Cubists who were displaying their discoveries for the first time. The Cubists' concept of constructing a composition was very close to Feininger's passion for architecture, and enabled him to 'build' a picture piece by piece. Angler mit blauem Fisch II is therefore not only one of the first works executed after the artist's discovery of Cubism, but also an important painting in Feininger's development and understanding of the notion of cubist compositions. Hans Hess described the newly gained spirit during the year 1911 as follows: 'What mattered to the artists was the possibility of daring that had come into the world of painting. The break-up of form, the break-up of light, and the freedom to treat each picture as a new reality were common to all, and one pioneer gave courage to the others [fig. 2]. What Feininger gained in Paris was new hope for his own endeavors. The year 1912 thus became a year of further experiments for Feininger' (ibid., p. 53).

With its pictorial style and its colour scheme, the present work represents a synthesis of various developments that marked the artist's ~uvre. His choice of a bright palette and striking tonal contrasts, as well as the subject of mannerist, caricature-style figures, are reminiscent of Feininger's early city scenes dominated by folkloric characters scattered across the composition. The sharp, straight lines and a geometric forms, on the other hand, anticipate his increasingly abstract style that was to dominate his later work. As Hess noted about the present painting: 'Feininger began to compose pictures with strollers and bathers at the seaside (fig. 4), unifying the movements of waves and people, the sky and boats, in one angular rhythm. In the first of these pictures, Angler mit blauem Fisch II, the carnival people once more come back into a picture; large figures on the shore are silhouetted against the sea. As a painting of space relations outside formal perspective the picture contains new thought. The angler's rods form a big triangle declaring the interrelation of men and space and give shape to a new order arising from the accident of their meeting. The human fate of the lucky fisherman with a fish and the one without, meet in the prolongation of their personality -- the overlapping rods. Behind them life goes on, as always unaware of the success or failure of men' (ibid., p. 54).

Feininger's experience as a graphic artist gave him a creative advantage when it came to rendering dimension in his painting, as he was extraordinarily capable of conveying spatial depth without being reliant upon gradations of colour or excessive details. In the present work he varies the scale and proportion of each figure in an exaggerated manner in order to suggest the notion of distance, while manifestly creating a flat surface in which the beach, the figures and the sea with the ships on the horizon become one continuous entity. The individual elements of the composition are constructed out of geometric, mostly triangular shapes, and appear to be pasted onto the surface of the picture -- an aesthetic that foreshadows Matisse's cut-outs of the 1940s. His choice of palette, comprised of vibrant and powerful colours, is also noteworthy: the yellow-green sea, the brilliant pink used for the strolling lady with her parasol, the striking blue fish and the different shades of green, orange and brown make this painting a feast for the eye and at the same time a magnificent example of Modernism. The perspective of space and the interconnection of events appear to be Feininger's main interest in this painting. As Hess pointed out: 'The interpretation of events is a Futurist discovery (figs. 5 & 6), the revelation of simultaneous view is a Cubist discovery, and the summary presentation of the sequence of events is Feininger's contribution' (ibid., p. 53).

The artist was fascinated by the sea and the landscape of northern Germany and he regularly visited the Baltic and North Sea from 1892 until 1936, just before he left Germany. The island of Rügen inspired him as much as it had inspired Caspar David Friedrich before him. He also frequently returned to other seaside towns such as Ribnitz, Deep, Heringsdorf and Swinemünde, to name only a few places in northern Germany which became very important to the artist. Some of his most magnificent and significant works resulted from visits to those towns and reflect Feininger's strong and lasting admiration for this part of the world and its elements.

When Feininger moved to the United States in 1937 on the eve of the war, Angler mit blauem Fisch II was one of about 50 works from his early ~uvre that he left in the care of an associate in Quedlinburg, Germany. Although the artist made several futile attempts during his lifetime to have these works shipped from East Germany to his new residence in New York, it was not until 1984, nearly thirty years after his death, that the pictures were finally returned to Feininger's heirs in the United States. In honour of their recovery, these works were featured in an important exhibition at Acquavella Galleries in New York and The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., in which the present work was included.

To be included in The Lyonel Feininger Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings being prepared by Achim Moeller.

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