Lyonel Feininger: Photographs

Bauhaus, 1919-1929

Bauhaus, 1919-1929

Lyonel Feininger

Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum

Lyonel Feininger

Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum

Lyonel Feininger

Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum

Lyonel Feininger

Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum

Lyonel Feininger

Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum

Lyonel Feininger

Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum

Lyonel Feininger

Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum

Lyonel Feininger

Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum

In the fall of 1928 Feininger took up the camera with artistic intent for the first time. Since 1919 he had been a master instructor at the Bauhaus, the school of art and design founded by Walter Gropius. After the school moved from Weimar to Dessau in 1926, Feininger remained a master but no longer had teaching obligations. At the time, photography was a subject of intense interest at the school. László Moholy-Nagy, Feininger’s fellow master and neighbor until the summer of 1928, was one of the chief theorists and practitioners of avant-garde photography. Two of Feininger’s sons, Andreas and Lux, were seriously engaged in their own photographic pursuits, and had installed a darkroom in the basement of Feininger’s house.

Although Feininger continued to paint during the day, in the evenings he set out with his Voigtländer Bergheil camera and tripod to photograph Dessau at night. The 4.6 x 6 cm glass-plate negatives in the collection include atmospheric night photographs of the neighborhood in which the masters’ houses stood, as well as a series of views of the Bauhaus building, two of which Gropius published in 1930 in his Bauhaus Buildings Dessau, the twelfth volume in the Bauhaus Book series. The collection also includes a number of diapositive plates from which Feininger made negative prints.

During the winter of 1928–29, Feininger made a series of photographs at the Dessau train station, a short walk from the Bauhaus campus. From his perch on a bridge above the tracks, he made expansive images of the rail yard, as well as bird’s-eye views of the comings and goings of locomotives and train cars directly beneath him, paying special attention to the dramatic effects of vapor and steam that were intensified by the extreme cold. Since his childhood in New York, Feininger had been fascinated by trains, which frequently appear in his drawings and paintings. He would continue to photograph railroad scenes—locomotives, train stations, and rail yards—throughout his life.