Almost a hundred years have gone by since the Bauhaus was founded in Weimar in 1919 which means that the coming year will be the Bauhaus’s first centenary year, during which a multitude of exhibitions, art projects, events and all kinds of activities will be taking place not only in the erstwhile locations of its relatively short lifetime – first Weimar, then Dessau and finally Berlin, where even new museum buildings are to be opened – but also in the whole of Germany and even farther afield. The idea behind these celebratory activities is to show where and how the Bauhaus has developed and influenced architecture, urban planning, product design, the visual arts, typography, photography, dance and a great many other creative fields, and all under the sign of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Thus the focus will not be just on the historical context of the Bauhaus but also on its influence on subsequent generations of artists.
Consequently, the exhibitions will be showing more than just artefacts from the Bauhaus era. Visitors’ attention will also be drawn to new cultural centres and venues that have been developed and built in the spirit of the Bauhaus. The cycle of exhibitions will begin in Weimar in the spring of 2019 with an opening ceremony celebrating the founding of the Bauhaus. This exhibition in the new Bauhaus Museum in Weimar, which houses the oldest Bauhaus collection worldwide, will be devoted to the theme of the influence of the Bauhaus on modernism. In the summer of 2019 the Bauhaus Archive/Museum for Design in Berlin will be showing outstanding classics of Bauhaus design, some of them now world-famous, which illuminate the relationship between the unique and the edition, between the original and the copy. The exhibition mounted by the Bauhaus Foundation in Dessau, which will be opening at the new Bauhaus Museum in Dessau in the autumn of 2019, will be showing objects that today are an indispensable part and parcel of our lives and surroundings and reflect the influence of the Bauhaus legacy on the everyday culture of the present day. Our own exhibition on Lyonel Feininger’s “Nature Notes in and around Weimer” may be seen as a prelude to the centenary celebration of the founding of the Bauhaus, a school of art and design that has left its mark on all creative generations ever since.
Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius’s innovative idea behind the Bauhaus in Weimar – later in Dessau and then in Berlin – was to unite fine art and applied art by affording a new generation of skilled and dedicated artists and designers the opportunity to revolutionize everyday life and to create, through art and design, a new and better world. To this end Gropius placed master craftsmen in charge of the school’s workshops, in which students were able to practice experimentation and design, the distinction between theory and practice being waived almost entirely. The artists engaged by Gropius as teachers included such renowned personalities as Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Josef Albers, Paul Klee (from 1921), Wassily Kandinsky (from 1922) and Oskar Schlemmer (from 1921). Using educationally adapted, reoriented and experimental methods, the Bauhaus taught its students how to work with different materials, such as glass, wood, clay and metal, and gave them training in the performing arts and in typography, photography and commercial art, to name only a few of the creative crafts taught at the school. Practice and theory, experimentation and teaching were virtually inseparable entities. The many different workshops offered the students an enormous range of possibilities. Even today, art colleges all over the world employ Bauhaus-influenced teaching and training methods, beginning with an introductory course, in which great importance is attached to versatile, comprehensive training, and followed by participation in various workshop courses.
Lyonel Feininger was appointed to the teaching and training staff by Walter Gropius in May 1919. From then until 1925 he was in charge of the printmaking workshop. His woodcut “Cathedral” graces the title page of the Bauhaus manifesto of 1919. The very first publication of the Weimar Bauhaus, in 1921, was a portfolio containing twelve woodcuts by Feininger. Later, in 1926, he moved with the Bauhaus to Dessau, where he remained – released at his own request from all teaching duties – until 1933.
Born in New York in 1871, Lyonel Feininger was a late-comer to painting, having for many years been a caricaturist. From 1906, when Feininger first travelled to Weimar in order to visit his future second wife, he would often take a stroll in and around Weimar and make drawings and sketches of nature, which he called his “Nature Notes”. They were a kind of visual diary, which he kept in a file and later used for his paintings. The drawings and sketches are lovingly executed, abstracted renderings of urban Weimar and its surrounding countryside, impressions of what the artist saw captured on small sheets of paper. A longer period of stay in the region was taken between 1913 and 1914 and then again from 1919, when he was appointed to the Bauhaus teaching staff. Feininger was fascinated not only by the architecture of Weimar, with its magnificent churches, its towers, its streets with their historical buildings and bridges, but also by its surrounding open countryside that inspired him to make these small-format sketches with such matured dexterity. Feininger “captured” not only Weimar but also many of the surrounding, idyllically situated villages.
Feininger’s “Nature Notes” may be seen as preliminary sketches on the spot, the initial capture of what he has seen, whether landscape or architecture, very often with human figures as well. He produced a multitude of drawings on paper – the sheets rarely exceeding a format of 20 cm – in pencil, charcoal, pen and ink or coloured chalk. They served him as a kind of treasure trove, as an archive on which he could draw again and again, even years later. Drawing exactly what he saw, capturing what took place in nature at first hand, was the beginning of an artistic process that culminated in a composition painted in oil or a woodcut pulled from a carved block of wood. Thus the drawings and sketches were Feininger’s artistic capital. While the first of these works are known to date from 1887, Feininger did not produce them continuously until sometime between 1906 and 1911. The development of Feininger’s style in the various phases of his oeuvre is mirrored in his “Nature Notes”. They were his source material for experimentation, which he used as a means of developing his innovative artistic and stylistic strategies. From their accompanying notes and correspondence we learn of Feininger’s passion and enthusiasm for the cycling tours he would make daily from Weimar in all directions to the outlying villages. Feininger would also make several drawings of his favourite motifs viewed from different perspectives, rapidly capturing them in their entirety with extreme economy of line and perspectival distortion and creating cubistically simplified architectural forms with only a suggestion of hatched shading.
Feininger never ceased to impress upon his students at the Bauhaus that nature study at first hand was the most fundamental aspect of all artistic endeavour. Feininger first developed ideas of form on the spot, in front of his chosen subject, as small-format drawings on paper, which he would then use as the starting points for his oil paintings and prints. Thus it was that Feininger’s famous Thuringian motifs, realized over the course of many years, had their origins in the “Nature Notes” made in and around Weimar decades before.
This exhibition would not have been possible without the kind support of “The Lyonel Feininger Project, New York”.