Lyonel Feininger: Photographs

Feininger at Harvard

For nearly eight decades Harvard University has enjoyed a substantial connection with the art of Lyonel Feininger. The earliest works by Feininger to come to Harvard were three drawings acquired in 1934 by Charles Kuhn, curator of the Busch-Reisinger Museum from 1930 to 1968, and one of the first curators at a US art museum to collect the artist’s work.

Today the Lyonel Feininger Archive at the Busch-Reisinger Museum comprises paintings, drawings, watercolors, woodcuts, sketches, and photographic material. In addition to the approximately five hundred vintage prints (dating mostly from the 1920s and ‘30s) housed at Harvard’s Houghton Library, the Busch-Reisinger possesses fourteen thousand glass-plate and 35mm=film negatives, and more than four thousand black-and-white and color slides, which the artist’s son, T. Lux Feininger, gave to the museum in 1971 and 1991. Thousands of letters that the family donated to the Busch-Reisinger Museum, including those in which Feininger discusses his use of photography, are now on deposit at Houghton Library, joining other papers given directly to the library. Between Houghton and the Busch-Reisinger, Harvard presently holds over twenty-four thousand objects by Feininger, making it the world’s largest repository of his work.

Feininger’s personal association with Harvard began with trips to Cambridge in the early 1950s to visit Lux, who served as a lecturer in painting and drawing at the university from 1953 to 1961, and Walter Gropius, who headed Harvard’s architecture school from 1938 to 1952 and lived in nearby Lincoln. During these summer sojourns in New England, Feininger and his wife, Julia, also visited Charles Kuhn at the Busch-Reisinger Museum. Feininger was familiar with the museum’s holdings, its collection of his own work, and its significance as the sole North American museum devoted to the art of German-speaking countries in northern and central Europe. The photograph shown here records Julia and Kuhn with the museum’s 1934 acquisitions of Feininger drawings Freight Steamer (1932) and Illustration for a Ghost Story, two works from 1902 housed in a single frame (to see second work, click here), displayed on tables along with a selection of objects related to the Bauhaus.

Feininger’s trips to Cambridge allowed him to photograph Harvard’s campus and the surrounding urban environment. This group of images includes views of Widener Library, Memorial Church, the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger museums, and Harvard Square. After Feininger’s death in 1956, the family remained in close contact with Kuhn and continued to give generously to Harvard. In 1963 Julia gave a collection of 5,400 sketches to the Busch-Reisinger, and the following year donated the painting Gross Kromsdorf III (1921).

The Busch-Reisinger Museum has been committed to presenting Feininger’s art to the Harvard community since 1934, and has made his works in various media available to the broader public since 1958 in six solo exhibitions and numerous group shows. Harvard has likewise made its collections accessible in study rooms, permanent collection galleries, reading rooms, and online resources. This research website, with its database of digitized images of photographic material in the Lyonel Feininger Archive, is designed to elucidate the artist’s previously obscure work in the medium of photography. This initiative, along with the exhibition Lyonel Feininger: Photographs, 1928–1939, organized by Laura Muir, are the latest examples of the ways in which Harvard continues to celebrate its historical and ongoing relationship with the art of Lyonel Feininger.