The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ latest must-see exhibition is Lyonel Feininger: From Manhattan to the Bauhaus, a lively retrospective that features paintings, satirical cartoons, comic strips, hand-made figures and photographs…
Lyonel Feininger is one of those art masters you don’t know that you know. His name might not be as iconic as Van Gogh or Gauguin’s, but as soon as you step into the massive solo exhibition currently on at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, his works will feel familiar. That’s because the American-born artist who moved to Germany in the 1880s was a lynch pin in the European avant-garde at the turn of the 20th century, though one that slipped under the radar.
After training and working extensively as a commercial comic artist and illustrator – another reason his works ring a bell is that they were widely distributed in turn-of-the-century magazines and on posters – he discovered painting and explored styles that were only just emerging at the time, like Cubism and Fauvism. During the Nazi reign in Germany, though, his work was deemed “degenerate,” like so many modern artists at the time, and over 460 of his pieces were confiscated over the war years – a fact that makes this exhibition, which unites 350 works, even more important.
Feininger’s use of colour, especially in the 1910s when he was fascinated with urban scenes and the development of industrial modern society, jumps out from the canvas, a mouthwatering fruit bowl full of juicy reds and vibrant yellows. It’s a beautiful counterpoint to the black and white photography he did later in life, a special focus of the exhibition and a little-known aspect of this renaissance man’s talents. (There is also a generous section on his photographer son, Andreas Feininger.)
In addition to his visual production, Feininger was also an accomplished violinist and composer; a particularly fascinating room in the show is the one dedicated to the relationship between his fascination with the fugue – a circular musical composition that has various musicians play the same part at different intervals – and his visual style.
The first retrospective in North America since Feininger’s death in 1956, this exhibition, co-created by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, shines an exciting new light on one of history’s forgotten figures.
Lyonel Feininger: From Manhattan to Bauhaus, January 20 to May 13, 2012
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1380 Sherbrooke West, (514) 285-1600
Isa Tousignant is contributing editor for Canadian Art, Montreal correspondent for Akimbo, and a freelance writer on art, culture, travel, design and shoes for everyone from enRoute to Canadian Business to herself.