Feininger is known for his paintings of buildings, crystalline architectures in impressive monumentality and harmony of colour. The Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt am Main presents rarely shown major works, but also lesser-known works such as the artist’s recently rediscovered photographs. With central works, a special focus is on the 1930s and the artist’s US exile. With around 160 paintings, drawings, caricatures, watercolours, woodcuts, photographs and objects, the exhibition highlights important themes and lines of development that shaped Feininger’s work and made it unmistakable.1
The history of the Schöneberg gasometers on Torgauer Straße, of which only the main tank still stands today as part of the EUREF campus, dates back to 1853. The plant shown here was built between 1906 and 1908.
Feininger and Berlin
“Lyonel Feininger stayed in Berlin from 1888 to 1919, interrupted by travels and study visits. It was only at the age of 36 that the caricaturist and illustrator found his way to painting. Under the influence of Robert Delaunay, whom Feininger met in Paris in 1911, he began to dissect the pictorial object cubically. After meeting the Italian Futurists in Herwarth Walden’s Sturm-Galerie in Berlin in the spring of 1912, he consistently used prismatically broken colours and forms as a stylistic device. Feininger preferred Thuringian villages and towns with their medieval houses of worship – but also the fieldstone church of Teltow -, ships on the Baltic Sea and finally the skyscrapers of Manhattan as subjects.
Surprisingly, Feininger painted the Schöneberg Gasometer as the only metropolitan motif of Berlin or its neighbouring municipalities. The painting is also an exception in his oeuvre thematically. Although the artist had repeatedly depicted technical objects such as railways and other means of transport in his decorative paintings from 1909 to 1911, which were still influenced by Art Nouveau, he never emphasised their monumentality and symbolic power for the pulsating life of the modern metropolis.
The beauty of technology, its dynamism and vitality, as sung about in the Futurist manifestos, is directly echoed here in the euphoric colouring, in the filigree dematerialisation of the gas tank, in the powerful smoking and pounding of the locomotive and in the integration of man into the industrial process. The city appears compressed into a single enormous source of energy, which, as it were, proves its existence. The influence of the Futurists is also clearly perceptible in the attempt to capture movement, although Feininger was less concerned with simultaneity, i.e. the simultaneity of different stages of a course of action, than with the transitory moment, i.e. the climax of the action. Thus, the position of the connecting rod and the steam blowing backwards from the locomotive suggest dynamism without multiplying the pictorial objects that are in motion at the moment. “2
1 Schirn, press release of 5 September 2023
2 Bartmann, Dominik: Lyonel Feininger, Gasometer in Berlin-Schöneberg, 1912 in: “Die Schönheit der großen Stadt, Berliner Bilder von Gaertner bis Fetting”, edited by Paul Spies and Dominik Bartmann. Verlag M, Berlin 2018, p. 172.