Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Lyonel Feininger’s “Barfüsserkirche II”: a quintessential and beautiful example of crystalline Cubism

Lyonel Feininger (American, 1871-1956)
Barfüsserkirche II (Church of the [Franciscans] Minorites II) 1926
oil on canvas
Collection of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Gift of the T. B. Walker Foundation, Gilbert M. Walker Fund
Acquired in 1943
Photograph by versluis 2016

The following is from the Walker Art Center label:

In 1943, the Walker Art Center launched an ambitious exhibition plan with the dual goals of highlighting contemporary American art while also promoting its purchase within the museum and the local community. The first project to embody this new mission was 92 Artists, a survey of national trends in landscape, portraiture, figuration, and abstraction. Its curator, T. B. Walker’s grandson Hudson Walker, framed the exhibition in terms that reflected the patriotic pride of the World War II era and recognized New York as the “creative artistic capital of the world” that supplanted Europe. Among the artists Walker chose to carry the nationalist flag is one that strikes an odd note: Lyonel Feininger. His painting Barfüsserkirche II (Church of the Minorites II), with its German title and European Cubist-Expressionist style, along with the artist’s surname, might have given viewers the impression that he was not American, but German.

In a sense, Feininger was both. He was born in New York City but moved to Berlin in 1887, at age 16, to study art. He remained in Germany for 50 years, becoming a celebrated avant-garde painter who was associated with Expressionism and on the faculty of the Bauhaus. He returned to the United States in 1936 because the Nazis declared his work “degenerate.” Once at home, he encountered intense anti-German sentiment that made life difficult for his family and threatened his livelihood. He began emphasizing his roots and seized every opportunity to be seen as an American artist.

Church of the Minorites II was among the dozen works purchased from 92 Artists for the Walker's collection. Today, it is considered a superb and important example of Feininger’s mature style and reflects the Walker’s embrace of artists and histories that do not fit monolithic definitions or categories.

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