ART IN REVIEW, by Grace Glück; The New York Times, July 22, 2011
A Small Retrospective of Works on Paper
Achim Moeller Fine Art -- 167 East 73rd Street, Manhattan -- Through Sept. 16
Born in New York in 1871 to German parents, Lyonel Feininger was off to Hamburg at the age of 16 to study music. But his interest in art took over, and he pursued it in Europe for the next 30 years. He progressed...from a cartoonist and illustrator (among other gigs, he drew comic strips for The Chicago Tribune) to a Modernist painter. Fired up by the architectural forms of spired churches, sailboats and soaring skyscrapers, he eventually developed a distinctive style combining radiant planes with lines and geometric forms.
This crowded show of some 70 small sketches, drawings and watercolors, with a few woodcuts and an oil or two, covers Feininger's career from 1892, before his artistic direction was clear, to 1953, three years before his death. Most of the material comes from the sketchbook he constantly carried, in which he recorded his ''notes on nature,'' spontaneous drawings made as the spirit moved him, like the 1909-10 group shown in the exhibit of Baltic villages. Their peaceful rusticity is paradoxically evoked in quick, restless strokes.
One of the show's highlights ...(from) the early 1900's, when he found a new sense of aesthetic possibilities as he sketched not only architectural details but also the bustle of city life. A lively example is ''People in a Hurry'' (1914), a beautifully finished drawing that depicts the comically elongated forms of scurrying pedestrians, their bodies made of close crosshatching played off against a ground of fine horizontal lines.
Although his nature notes and drawings form the main body of work here, Feininger mastered other techniques, notably printmaking. A fresh, vibrant example of the woodcuts he began doing in 1918 is his ''Fishing Boats'' of that year, black silhouetted half-abstractions of a cluster of small boats with men standing on the shore that used the rigidity of the woodcut process to best advantage.
By the mid-1920's Feininger had begun to establish his mature easel style, seen in the small oil ''Windmill Near Usedom'' (1927).
The work is a close-up, semiabstract look at the roofs of farm buildings and a busy windmill; its background a radiant whitish plane is inflected by bands of semitranslucent color. Already in place here is the spiritual feel of his later paintings, engendered partly by his use of these broad, shimmering expanses.
Feininger returned to the United States in 1937 from Germany. There the Nazis had labeled him a degenerate artist; in his own country, he was honored.