City of Dreams: Lyonel Feininger and his villages

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A retrospective of the American-born painter who immortalized Germany’s country churches

Lyonel Feininger: New York’s Bauhaus connection

Pedaling along the quiet 20-mile-long Feininger Cycle Trail in Germany is a delightful way to follow in the tracks of artist Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956). Some 20 minutes after leaving Weimar, you are in Gelmeroda. In this village, the church, with its distinctive spire, sparked off a series of paintings by Feininger. Today, along with other country churches that dot the trail, these paintings hang in museums around the world; some canvases have been sold at auction for millions of dollars. Usually labeled as German-American, Feininger was born and lived in New York until he was 16, when he moved to Germany. After taking up printmaking and painting, he was invited to teach at the Bauhaus in Weimar by Walter Gropius. That was in 1919 and it was Gropius’ first faculty appointment. In Gelmeroda’s church, now a small museum dedicated to Feininger, displays explain how the painter loved cycling and sketching in the surrounding countryside, 175 miles south of Berlin.

City of Dreams: Lyonel Feininger and his villages

As part of this year’s 100th birthday celebrations for the Bauhaus movement, Apolda, 12 miles northeast of Weimar, is hosting a unique retrospective. It focuses on Feininger’s fascination for the Romanesque churches in local villages, such as Gelmeroda, Mellingen, Gaberndorf, Vollersroda, and Tröbsdorf. On show from September 15th to December 15th are some 90 drawings, watercolors, prints, and paintings that he created between 1890 and 1955. Many have been loaned by major institutions, such as New York’s Guggenheim Museum and the Harvard University Art Museum. In Dessau, fans of the artist should visit the Feininger House, one of the four Master‘s houses, where professors lived. Feininger and his family shared the semi-detached house; Hungarian painter Moholy-Nagy was his next-door neighbor. In the glorious medieval town of Quedlinburg, 100 miles north of Weimar, is the Lyonel Feininger Gallery. In the gallery displaying his works (hidden from the Nazis by a local resident) stands an old-fashioned bicycle, the sort that Feininger would have ridden 100 years ago, searching for inspiration – and church spires.

Halle (Saale): Walk the walk!

Feininger painted far more than village churches. His talent ranged from figurative painting to his own version of Cubism and even caricature. From 1929 to 1931, he worked in Halle (Saale), 90 miles northeast of Weimar. He had been commissioned to paint the city’s major buildings, from the cathedral and the Red Tower to Halle Market with the Church of St. Mary. No bicycle is needed here to follow in his footsteps on a self-guided audio tour of the sites. And, at the end of the walk, you can see three of his eleven famous Halle paintings in the Moritzburg Art Museum.

Weimar and Dessau: New museums, new insight

For more insight into the impact of Lyonel Feininger, visit the new Bauhaus museums. In Weimar, see his groundbreaking paintings of Gelmeroda; in Dessau, see Cathedral, the cover design for Walter Gropius’s groundbreaking Bauhaus manifesto. Having spent 13 years as a Master at the Bauhaus in these cities, Feininger was forced to return to the USA by the rise of the National Socialist movement. He continued to teach, influencing generations of American students at Mills College (Oakland, California) and Black Mountain College (North Carolina). Feininger’s versatility enabled him to develop his style. Inspired by New York’s skyscrapers, he created cityscapes, some of which are shown in that City of Dreams: Lyonel Feininger and his villages exhibition in Apolda.

Fun Fact: The word Bauhaus

In 1919, when Walter Gropius launched his manifesto for the new Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar, he used Cathedral, Feininger’s Cubist-style woodcut to illustrate the cover. Both Gropius and Feininger referred to the “miracle of the Gothic cathedral” as a synthesis of art and craft. The name Bauhaus alludes to the multi-talented masons’ guilds in the Middle Ages.

Exploring BauhausLand is easy with special cards that provide discounts on admission to major attractions. Use the WelterbeCard in the Heritage Region around Dessau and, in Thuringia, the Weimar Card, Thuringia Card and, new this year, BauhausCard 2019.

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