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From Manhattan to the Bauhaus: First Lyonel Feininger retrospective in North America is exclusive to Montreal
Lyonel Feininger, Yellow Street II, 1918. Oil on canvas, 95 x 86.1 cm. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Purchase; gift of The Maxwell Cummings Family Foundation, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts' Volunteer Association, John G. McConnell, C.B.E., Mr. and Mrs. A Murray Vaughan, Harold Lawson Bequest, and Horsley and Annie Townsend Bequest.© Estate of Lyonel Feininger / SODRAC (2011). Photo MMFA.

MONTREAL.- Through May 13, 2012, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is presenting the first posthumous retrospective in North America on Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956). Lyonel Feininger: from Manhattan to the Bauhaus offers the first comprehensive panorama of the oeuvre of this American artist, who has been strangely forgotten since he spent most of his life in Germany. A celebrated cartoonist, a leading figure of Expressionism alongside Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, a professor at the avant-garde Bauhaus School, from its founding in Weimar until it was closed in Dessau by the Nazis, he was one of the most famous modern artists in Germany. Condemned as a “degenerate” artist by the Third Reich, he returned, after a fifty-year absence, to New York, where an exhibition at MoMA in 1944 proved to be his breakthrough. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts's exhibition highlights the surprisingly modern multidisciplinary dimension of this versatile creator, who was an illustrator, painter, draughtsman, engraver, photographer, musician and composer. The 350 or so works exhibited include paintings, watercolours, engravings, illustrations and carved toys. For the first time photographs taken by the artist are on display together with a group of photographs by his son Andreas, a renowned photographer of the American modernist school. Seventy prints from a collection of 284 photographs recently gifted to the Museum are exhibited. This retrospective was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, in partnership with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

The Museum wishes to restore the reputation of this unjustly neglected artist, a major figure of Expressionism and the Bauhaus”, said Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. “Lyonel Feininger was an accomplished pioneer of the comic strip and an emeritus professor of engraving at the Bauhaus. His hitherto unpublished photographs show his artistic connection to his son Andreas, a famous modernist photographer whose descendants settled in Quebec City. "A Doctor of Souls”, Lyonel Feininger aspired to the spiritual in his art, as did his companions in the Expressionist group Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) and the painters and musicians Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, who also worked at the Bauhaus. Together they sought to abolish the traditional boundaries of representation, regarding music as the ultimate transcendent art that could free the innermost creative self of every artist and seeking a synaesthetic correspondence between shapes and colours, sounds and words. This quest is mirrored in the Museum’s desire to assert its multidisciplinary and musical dimension...”

For this exhibition the MMFA is again incorporating music into the presentation, both in the galleries and in the new Bourgie concert hall, where a festival dedicated to Feininger is on the programme. Following Andy Warhol, Imagine and Miles Davis, this retrospective reinforces the importance now accorded to music at the Museum with its first cooperative venture with the Arte Musica Foundation.

Major loans have come from a number of institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Gallery in Washington, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Gugghenheim Museum, New York, the Harvard Art Museums, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, and by Lyonel Feininger’s family in the United States and Canada, as well as from many other museums and private collectors in Germany, Austria and the United States and galleries such as Moeller Fine Art, New York - Berlin.

Exceptionally for his era, Feininger was one of the first “American” artists of his generation to be perceived as an international artist with a hybrid identity. This has since become the norm for many contemporary artists.

Feininger was born in Manhattan, the son of professional musicians. His German-born father was an internationally recognized violinist and his German-American mother, a singer and pianist, while he himself was a talented violinist. At the age of sixteen he was sent to Hamburg, Germany, to study music, but he decided to switch to art school, studying in Berlin, Liège and Paris. He pursued a brilliant career as a caricaturist and painter in Germany. Although he was born American, he was considered a German artist and his works could not be exhibited at the famous Armory Show in New York in 1913. He exhibited in leading German museums, which purchased many of his works. When his oeuvre was denounced by the Nazis and featured in the infamous exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) of 1937, he returned to the United States shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Now that he was considered an American artist, American museums began to exhibit his work, which was presented at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, among others.

Feininger began his career as a caricaturist, illustrator and cartoonist for prestigious publications such as the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung and Ulk. As one of the most famous caricaturists in Germany at the turn of the 20th century, he also created comic strips for the Chicago Sunday Tribune – The Kinder Kids and Wee Willie Winkie’s World. His style, his subjects, his compositions and juxtapositions, not to mention his sense of humour, were to make him one of the fathers of the modern comic strip. He abandoned his career as an illustrator at the age of thirty-six and in about 1907 began to focus on painting in oils. The lively colourful paintings he executed in that decade evoke his early work as a caricaturist. It was while exhibiting at the Salon des indépendants in Paris in 1911 that he discovered Cubism. He then developed a personal style characterized by fragmented images. He later exhibited at the avant-garde Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin and taught at the Bauhaus from 1919 to 1933. The retrospective will also feature a selection of watercolours and woodcuts that Feininger produced after 1918, and photos showing his fascination with light. An equally important and original facet of his production – which can be seen also in his paintings – are his carved wooden toys and miniature buildings.

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