About this artwork
The son of German immigrants, Lyonel Feininger was born in New York and moved to Germany in 1887. By the 1890s, he had become an accomplished cartoonist (his series Wee Willie Winkie’s World and Kin-der-Kids ran for years in many newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune). Feininger began to paint in 1907 and quickly became associated with the German Expressionists. He taught at the famed art school the Bauhaus until the Nazis closed it in 1933; four years later, he left Germany for the United States.
Feininger’s 1911 Carnival in Arcueil is important not only for the considerable skill it exhibits but also for the way it combines past and future interests of the artist. Feininger spent several months each year in the French city of Arcueil. Depicting its famed Roman viaduct soaring over a row of tall, narrow houses, the composition reveals a fascination with architectural forms that would continue throughout the artist’s life. Against this expressive, colorful backdrop, Feininger set a scene of revelry. With their elongated and angular bodies, whimsical costumes, and antic behavior, the fantastic characters in the foreground—like the toy figures and houses Feininger fashioned at the same time—are rooted in the artist’s cartooning, in which he was then still involved. While his subsequent work retains the elegance of draftsmanship and keen sense of observation he developed as a cartoonist, Feininger became increasingly committed to expressing universal and spiritual ideas in the color-saturated meditations on architecture, landscapes, and sea scenes for which he is now best known.
—Entry, Master Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago, 2013, p.106.
This is one of a group of recently rediscovered early masterpieces by Lyonel Feininger that had been left behind when the artist and his family were forced to leave Nazi Germany in 1937 for the United States. For over forty years, this group of roughly fifty pictures remained unknown and inaccessible in the East German home of the friend in whose custody Feininger had left them. Only after a prolonged legal battle were all but three of the pictures finally returned to the artist’s heirs in 1984 and exhibited as a group in 1985.
This picture reveals an artist of remarkable maturity and vision, despite the fact that Feininger had not turned seriously to painting until 1907. It was only then that improved financial circumstances allowed him to give up his successful career as a cartoonist. The setting for this painting is the town of Arcueil, south of Paris, where Feininger spent several months a year from 1906 to 1912. Its majestic viaduct became a frequent subject in the artist’s drawings starting as early as 1908. His intense interest in architecture, which was to remain constant in Feininger’s work, is apparent here not only in the use of the viaduct but also in the brilliantly colored block of houses in the middle ground. It may have been reinforced at this time by his interest in Robert Delaunay’s work, in which architectural subjects likewise plays a primary role.
Feininger’s early admiration for Vincent van Gogh seems evident in the heavily impastoed surface and in the use of highly saturated colors, especially yellow, which in the row of houses is beautifully modulated by touches of pink, green, and orange. Also reminiscent of van Gogh are the animated, billowing contours of the houses’ rooftops, which in turn echo the sweeping movement of the clouds. Against this dramatic backdrop, Feininger deployed a motley crew of grotesque and vaguely sinister characters, some of whom recall Feininger’s earlier cartoons. With their vividly colored costumes, these figures create a striking counterpoint to the dominant yellow of the background. But the ultimate impression is one of dissonance between the grandeur and beauty of the town’s architecture and the bombastic artificiality of its inhabitants.
—Entry, Margherita Andreotti, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, The Joseph Winterbotham Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago (1994), p. 144-145.
- On View, Gallery 392
- Lyonel Feininger
- Carnival in Arcueil
- United States
- Oil on canvas
- 41 1/4 × 37 3/4 in. (104.8 × 95.9 cm)
- Joseph Winterbotham Collection
- © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn