Lyonel Feininger: Photographs

Halle, 1929-1931

Halle, 1929-1931

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 spring of 1929, Alois Schardt, director of the Städtisches Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Halle an der Saale (about 35 miles south of Dessau), invited Feininger to paint a view of the city and gave him studio space in the octagonal tower of the museum, housed in the city’s historic Moritzburg Castle. Upon accepting the commission, the artist, who had been actively making photographs since the previous fall, began to consider how he might use photography in connection with the project. In Dessau Feininger had already begun to explore the idea of using photographs as studies for paintings. While not attempting to substitute photography for his longtime practice of making quick sketches to serve as raw material for later compositions, he hoped to make use of the new medium in a similar and more systematic way.

The majority of Feininger’s Halle negatives record architectural views and details, which became source material for a total of eleven paintings. The Moritzburg Museum acquired all of the works in 1931. In many of these images, Feininger employed avant-garde photographic techniques, such as unusual viewpoints and tight framing, which inspired new, inventive directions in his paintings. As Feininger’s correspondence reveals, however, the process of working from photographs was more difficult than he had anticipated. After completing the Halle series, he would never again use photography so methodically in connection with his paintings.

In addition to architectural studies, Feininger photographed street scenes and experimented with multiple exposures and night imagery in Halle. At the Moritzburg Museum he photographed objects on display in the galleries and the play of light and shadow in his studio in the tower. The studio photographs also document views of his paintings in various stages of completion. While many of the photographs appear to be purely documentary, others are remarkably sophisticated compositions that explore relationships between the painting on the easel and the space in which it was created.