T. Lux Feininger

Collection of texts

Features and texts of various authors about the artist and his work

Philip Ursprung

In 1926, during a brief period of economic stability after several years of inflation and before the Great Crash of 1929, Theodore Lux Feininger enrolled at the Bauhaus. Only sixteen years old, he was the youngest student ever admitted to the school. It certainly was helpful that he was the son of the painter Lyonel Feininger, one of the founding professors of the Bauhaus, and had therefore grown up “with and at the Bauhaus.”[i] The Bauhaus had just been forced to leave the conservative residential town of Weimar. The school was welcomed by the “more urban” industrial city of Dessau, and the move “increased the reputation of the Bauhaus considerably” as Lux Feininger later recalled in his autobiography.[ii] The spectacular emblems of this new beginning were Walter Gropius’ buildings for the school and the faculty. Lux Feininger, still a teenager, was proud to get his own room – he could even choose the color it would be painted – in his parent’s house, the Meisterhaus no 1, that the family shared with the Moholy-Nagy family. And he was equally impressed that a “jazz band in smokings”, coming to Dessau from Berlin was performing on the opening ceremony of the new building in December 1926. The Bauhaus was definitively on the map.

After finishing the Vorkurs, the preliminary course, Lux Feininger enrolled in the experimental theater workshop of Oskar Schlemmer. He was attracted by the performances of this group, by the masks and costumes, the stage design, the movement of bodies through dark spaces. It was, as he put it, “essentially a dancers’ theater and as such, sufficient unto itself”, but “it was also a ‘class,’ a locale of learning.”[iii] Besides the theater workshop, it was again music, namely the jazz band, or, Bauhaus-Kapelle, that fascinated the young student. He felt that “the life at the Bauhaus was unthinkable without the musical background of its many parties – some improvised, others carefully and beautifully staged.”[iv] Although he did not play an instrument yet, he was eager to join the band, and even bought himself a banjo. However, he had to wait for while and learn to play the clarinet before he was finally admitted. Only now, he felt, he had actually become “a part of the life at the Bauhaus.”[v]

In retrospect it seems that Feininger wanted to be both in and outside the Bauhaus, partake in its life and observe it from a distance. Perhaps this attitude was influenced by his father who was half American, half German and who himself chose to stay at the Bauhaus in Dessau without actually teaching; he did not earn a salary but remained professor. But maybe this ambivalence was just due to his young age. He was undecided about his artistic future, but soon he discovered photography as a “niche.”[vi] His older brother Andreas, originally trained as an architect and also interested in photography, helped him install a dark room in the basement of the parent’s house. The first photography course at the Bauhaus would only be taught in 1929 by Walter Peterhans.[vii]

Lux Feininger first photographed the work of his fellow students and the performances in the theater workshop. Then he started to depict the daily life at the Bauhaus – an issue that, as he recalls, nobody else was interested in. Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and his wife Lucia Moholy certainly had set the tone with their dynamic interpretations of the modernist architecture. Herber Bayer and Josef Albers followed. And even Lyonel Feininger started to use the medium, inspired by his sons, to produce atmospheric representations of the building and its surroundings. It is obvious that these photographs had some influence on the young student. But more interesting then the similarities are the differences that prevailed. The photographs by the father, often taken by night, feature no people. They were obviously made with a tripod, while the photographs by Lux Feininger were made without tripod with a 9x12 glass plate camera that he constantly carried with him.[viii] And if Moholy-Nagy depicted people at all, they were usually staffage figures placed on the balcony to highlight the architectural quality of the buildings.

The young Feininger, however, did exactly the opposite. In his images, the architecture is not the main subject matter but a backdrop. For him the modern architecture was not the spectacular objet that literally made the camera go to its knees, nor was it a source of exciting patterns and contrasts. It was rather a familiar environment that already could be taken for granted. For instance, when Feininger depicts two members of the jazz band -- Xanti Schawinsky who dances and Clemens Röseler who plays the banjo -- on the roof on a winter day, the entire building seems to rock. The camera is tilted and produces an oblique photograph in an expressionist style. But the intention of this framing is not to reflect on the inherent qualities of the new medium, but rather to create the illusion that the photographer himself is driven by the music and that the camera itself starts to dance.

Unlike the photographs by Moholy-Nagy or other teachers such as Marianne Brandt, which deal with the authority of photography as a new artistic medium, and put emphasis on the experimental character of their work, Lux Feininger has a more relaxed and playful relation to the camera. And unlike his father’s photographs who celebrate the authority of the institution, for instance by showing the brightly lit studio window contrasting with the dark night, the son captures the beauty and spontaneity of the students who are using the institution. When he takes snapshots during a soccer game, the buildings are depicted blurred as if they were observing from afar what is happening around them. In his photographs, the Bauhaus turned from a space of education to a stage for lifestyle. Rather than a place where art and crafts are taught, the Bauhaus appears as a place where life-style is designed. The photographs recall the ideal of an autonomous, protected and free community. But they also prefigure the universal postwar lifestyle with its emphasis on leisure and consumer culture.

This is certainly the reason why Feininger’s early photographs are so appealing to today’s public. Compared to the photographs by Moholy-Nagy, they were appreciated rather late, only toward the end of the 20th century. They featured in exhibitions since the 1980s, but only with the 2001 exhibition Dancing on the Roof: Photography and the Bauhaus (1923-1929) at the Metropolitan Museum in New York they moved center-stage. For decades these photographs had stood in the shadow of the ideology – and commodity value – of the Bauhaus design, which was embodied by exclusive furniture, didactic principles and the problematic heritage in guise of the International Style. Gordon Matta-Clark spoke for many artists of his generation when he criticized this heritage of the “German design machine.”[ix] And Tom Wolfe satirically described the fetish character of this design. In his book From Bauhaus to Our House where he characterized Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair as “the holy object” that reminds one that one is “in a household were a fledgling architect and his young wife had sacrificed everything to bring the symbol of the godly mission into their home.“[x] In short, because the legacy of the Bauhaus was ideologically so heavily loaded and the very concept of Modernity laid on the heroic “master’s” shoulders there seemed to be no time for fun.

It is telling that the young Feininger refused to simply portray the famous masters, although the photo agency Dephot (Deutscher Photodienst) he worked for would have liked to get such material. When he made a photograph of Schlemmer’s back of the head, the latter asked: “On-no, do I look like that?”[xi] When he took a picture of Schlemmer, for instance, he depicted him like a product of his own stage design, as if he himself were a mask, or a machine. However, today his photographs of cheerful vitality touch us differently than the controlled self-referentiality of the classical Bauhaus photography, precisely because they let us see a new aspect of this period. They provide a close-up view, so to speak. In the midst of an epic battle about the fate of modernist culture, while the directors of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe struggled for the survival of the institution (and with each other), Feininger lets us observe groups of young students enjoying their daily life.

Nevertheless, it would be too simple to interpret these images as symptoms of the escapism that was typical for the Golden Twenties. Although the camera does not show the context of the Bauhaus, for instance the Junkers aircraft plants that were at the basis of Dessau’s prosperous economy, the many unemployed in the city, nor the signs of political confrontation, the perspective is all but naïve. The images by Feininger make clear that for artists of this generation, born in the early 20th century and grown up quickly, study and work, leisure and self-promotion, fun and professional skills blend seamlessly together. They love to party with and without costumes. But every activity, even a soccer game or a lunch break, is staged and carefully documented by the camera, as if it were important not to waste any energy. The photographs show us that these young people have to perform, and have to be creative day and night as if they would already foresee the pressure of immaterial labour and the “creative industry” that arises half a decade later. Life as such, so these photographs tell us, is precarious and becomes a matter of art, a resource ready to be marketed, consumed, and designed.

A couple of months later the credits that had been flowing in to Germany from the United States during the 1920s stopped when America itself was struck by the depression. The jazz bands would soon be put so silence. Architecture students from the United States still came to the Bauhaus, now mainly attracted by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the new director. But Mies – in the “law-and-order role of the administrator”[xii] as Feininger wrote — did not succeed in keeping the Bauhaus together. Many of the professors left, and the Bauhaus started to disintegrate. The political pressure within Germany grew, the National Sociality Party came to power, and forced the Bauhaus to close, in 1932. By that time, Lux Feininger had already left for Paris to become a painter and give up photography. The party was over.
[i] T. Lux Feininger, “The Bauhaus: Evolution of an idea”, in Bauhaus and Bauhaus People, Personal opinions and recollections of former Bauhaus members and their contemporaries, ed. by Eckhard Neumann, translated from German by Eva Richter and Alba Lorman, New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993, pp. 183-196, here p. 183.
[ii] Theodore Lux Feininger, Zwei Welten, Mein Künstlerleben zwischen Bauhaus und Amerika, translated by Florian Bergmeier, Halle (Saale), Mitteldeutscher Verlag, 2006, p. 73.
[iii] Feininger, 1993, p. 193.
[iv] Feininger, 2006, p. 90 (translation by Philip Ursprung).
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid, p. 74 (translation by Philip Ursprung)
[vii] See Katherine C. Ware, Fotografie am Bauhaus, in Bauhaus, ed. by Jeannin Fiedler and Peter Feierabend, Köln, Könemann, 1999, pp. 506-529.
[viii] See Jeannine Fiedler, "T. Lux Feininger: 'Ich bin Maler und nicht Fotograf!', in: Fotografie am Bauhaus, ed. by the Bauhaus-Archiv by Jeannine Fiedler, Berlin, Dirk Nishen, 1990, pp. 45-48.
[ix] Gordon Matta-Clark, Note, Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark on deposit at the Canadian Center for Architecture, Montreal. Quoted after Thomas Crow, "Gordon Matta-Clark", in: Corinne Diserens (ed.,), Gordon Matta-Clark, London, Phaidon, 2003, pp. 7-132, here p. 102.
[x] Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House, New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux,1981, pp. 60-61.
[xi] Quoted after Feininger, 2006, p.76.
[xii] Feininger, 2006, p. 110.

Published: Philip Ursprung, „Art as Lifestyle: Theodore Lux Feininger’s Photographs of the Bauhauslers“, in Bauhaus: Art as Life, Barbican Art Gallery London, Köln, Walther König, 2012, pp. 148-150.

Published here with kind permission of the author.

T. Lux Feininger
[German only]

[Originaltitel: BILDER MIT SCHIFFEN*]

„Der Mann muss viel von Schiffen verstanden haben.“ – So wurde ich, damals fünfzehn Jahre alt, von einem grauhaarigen Herrn angeredet, der die in der Galerie Neue Kunst, Fides, zu Dresden ausgestellten Bilder von Lyonel Feininger mit grossem Ernst und (wie mir schien) mit einiger Strenge betrachtete. Schon damals, 1925, war ich mir bewusst, dass manche ältere Herren, und auch Andere, der modernen Kunst nicht hold waren. Mit Erleichterung konnte ich mich deshalb versichern, dass dies hier tatsächlich nicht der Fall war.

Ja, der Mann verstand viel von Schiffen. Wie wichtig sie ihm waren, geht aus einem Brief [Lyonel Feiningers] an mich hervor: „… dieser alte Windjammer hier ([er] bezieht sich auf eine Illustration, auf der eine Dreimast-Bark dargestellt ist) – wie oft habe ich diese Bark beim Aussegeln vor Swinemünde beobachtet; gemächlich ein Segel nach dem anderen setzend – durch meinen „Zeiss“ [-Feldstecher] konnte ich ameisenhafte Figuren in der Takelage ausmachen. … Liebevoll sah ich sie an der Kimm entlang kriechen. … Wenn es vorkam, dass ein Fischerboot im Mittelgrund eine Sekunde lang, die Schiffs-Silhouette überschneidend gegen diese sich abhob – das war ein Anblick der fähig war, einem Tränen des reinsten Glücks zu entlocken...“ (Brief v. 25. November 1939; Übersetzung von mir).

Es ist für Lyonel Feiningers Schiffsliebe charakteristisch, dass er in all der Zeit, die er mehrere Sommer lang in Heringsdorf zubrachte, nie in Versuchung kam, den Namen und Heimathafen oder die Ladungen der Bark zu ermitteln - er wollte nur die Erscheinung, das Ding an sich; keine statistischen Daten. Die „norwegische Bark“ erscheint auf einer Anzahl von Kompositionen, zum letzten Mal noch in den New Yorker Jahren.

Von Jugend an war Leonell (wie er damals genannt wurde) interessiert an mechanischen Objekten und Vorgängen; wie er später in einem Brief schrieb, liebte er „das Konstruieren“. Seinem Vater war dies nicht recht; er nannte es „Bastelei“ und Zeitverschwendung für einen angehenden Violinisten; eine Zeitlang hat er es sogar verboten. Aber wie sehr auch Lyonel die Musik liebte, entschied er sich doch schon bald nach seiner Ankunft in Deutschland (1887) für das „Konstruieren“.

In New York waren es vor allem die Modell-Segelyachten gewesen, die er am Modell-Yacht-Teich im Central Park bewunderte. Dies waren die Erzeugnisse einer Gruppe von Schiffskapitänen im Ruhestand und waren Repliken in Miniatur von den großen Yachten, den Cup Defenders, der achtziger Jahre.
In den Jahren 1885, 1886 und 1887 musste der berühmte America’s Cup gegen englische Herausforderung verteidigt werden. Die Regatten wurden von der breitesten Öffentlichkeit mit passionierter Anteilnahme verfolgt. Die nie gänzlich verschwundene Rivalität zwischen England und den Vereinigten Staaten kam hierbei zum Ausdruck.

Die Schiffe im Hafen hat mein Vater in einem Brief an mich beschrieben. 1980 erschien bei Dover Publications der Bildband, „Maritime New York“, von Johnson und Lightfoot. Man muss diese einzigartigen Photographien der Lightfoot Collection gesehen haben, um die Macht der Beschwörung zu würdigen, die aus diesem Brief klingt:

„… Gestern auf der South Street, gegen elf Uhr vormittags, war der Ausblick auf die Skyscrapers an diesem wolkenlosen Tag, im Westen gegen den zartblauen Himmel, ganz herzbrechend schön. Ich sage dies, weil ich mir nicht vorstellen kann, dass ich lange genug leben werde, um dieses Bild, so wie es sein sollte, zu malen. … Und der East River flammte von Reflexen und Sonnenglanz; das Ufer gegenüber war voll von riesigen Liberty- und Victory ships ... sie gemahnten mich sehnsüchtig, die einstigen Reihen von graziösen squareriggers zu rekonstruieren. … In jenen alten Zeiten war die South Street bis zum Bersten gefüllt von Fahrzeugen aller Art, und der Lärm der eisenbeschlagenen Räder und Hufeisen der Gespanne war ohrenzerreißend und durchdrungen von dem Ausrufen der Höker. Es war schwer auf dem Kopfsteinpflaster voranzukommen; immer war es feucht, schlüpfrig von Obst- und Grünzeugresten, übersät von zertrümmerten Kisten, toten Katzen, verstellt von Tonnen etc. Aber an der Kante der Kais standen die Schiffe in stattlichen Reihen. Ihre Bugspriete ragten fast bis zu den Fenstern der gegenüberliegenden Häuser...“ (Brief v. 25. November 1939; Übersetzung von mir).

Trotz seiner Vorahnungen gelang es ihm, die Skyline bildnerisch zu gestalten; die Rahsegler dagegen blieben nur als Erinnerungsbild bestehen. – Von Schiffen aus seiner Jugendzeit bestehen zwei Kompositionen (1940 und 1947) des populärsten Hudson River Steamers, der „Mary Powell“. Das frühere der Gemälde dieser „Queen of the Hudson“ kann als das einizige Schiffsportrait von seiner Hand angesehen werden.

Der Hauptteil von Beobachtungen von Schiffsfahrzeugen kommt aus verschiedenen Zeiten und von mehreren Badestränden und ist auf zahlreichen Skizzen zu sehen. Der niedrige Blickpunkt vom Ufer verkürzt die Wasserfläche, die von den Fußspitzen bis zum Horizont reicht; dort stehen die Schiffe –
aber hier sind Figuren; zwischen diesen Polaritäten sind die Beziehungen das raumbildende Element. In Lyonel Feiningers Frühzeit waren derartige Szenen „Biedermeier“, nach dem Stil sowohl der Kostüme als auch des Schiffsbaus. Später treten Heringsdorfer Sommerfrischler und Badegäste auf, und von 1918 an entstanden Holzschnitte mit Schiffen und symbolischen, „zeitlosen“ Anglern, mit ihren steil in der Höhe ragenden Ruten, die an die Lanzen der Spanier in Velasquez’ „Übergabe von Breda“ erinnern.

Auch der Bau und das Segeln von eigenen Modellyachten hat zu des Malers Repertoire beigetragen. Eine Wiederbelegung der Jugendliebe fällt zusammen mit der Entdeckung von Deep (Rega) ab 1924 als Sommeraufenthalt. In den späteren zwanziger Jahren entstanden nicht nur neue Boote, sondern auch Photographien von Seglern auf Fluss und Ostsee. Einige solcher Aufnahmen wurden zu Bildkompositionen. Es ist interessant, dass in dieser Periode mein Vater sein altes Vorurteil gegen die „Marconi“, die so genannte Hochtakelung, aufgab und einige ganz moderne Yachtbilder malte, z.B. die Schärenkreuzer.

Wenn man zu einem Schluss kommen will, inwieweit der „Marine-Aspekt“ mit dem „Architektur-Aspekt“ in Lyonel Feiningers Werk vergleichbar ist, so scheint es mir, dass letzterer Vorrang hat. In den Dorfbildern entwickelte er seine Formsprache der kristallischen Durchdringung, während Schiffsbilder näher mit den frühzeitigen Karikaturen verwandt sind. In ihnen liegt mehr von der Darstellung eines identifizierbaren Objekts; die Dorfbilder dagegen verdanken ihr Zustandekommen inneren, seelischen Vorgängen. In den Ölgemälden der See ist das eigentliche Thema der atmosphärische, sogar metereologische Raum, aus welchem heraus das Schiff geboren wird. Am besten „fährt“ das Schiff in des Malers Werk, wenn es als Motiv von allem anekdotischen Beiwerk befreit ist. Beste Beispiele hierfür sind meines Erachtens die Holzschnitte: In ihnen spricht „Das Ding an sich“ am klarsten.

T. Lux Feininger
Cambridge, im März 2000

© The Estate of T. Lux Feininger

Veröffentlichung hier mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Nachlasses von T. Lux Feininger, Westport, MA
Transkript Cecilia A. M. Witteveen

*T. Lux Feininger schrieb diesen Text auf Bitte der Redaktion des Magazins mare, Hamburg. Erschienen in mare No. 20, Juni/Juli 2000: „Konstruierte Schiffe - Lyonel Feininger malte in seinem Leben immer wieder Segelschiffe. Sein Sohn beschreibt, wie es dazu kam“, S. 74 ff.

T. Lux Feininger
[German only]

Vor vielen Jahren erhielt ich einen Brief von Siddi Heckel in dem sie mich um einige Auskünfte betreffs der Korrespondenz zwischen Erich Heckel und Lyonel Feininger bat. Nachdem ich ihre Fragen beantwortet hatte, fügte ich noch hinzu, ihr zu sagen, wie lieb und unvergesslich mir die in ihrem Haus in Osterholz verbrachten Sommerwochen im Jahr 1922 geblieben sind. Sie schrieb zurück (18. August 1973):

„Dass Du so gern an die Osterholzer Tage denkst, zu lesen, hat mich natürlich auch gefreut. Erst vor etwa zwei Wochen schrieb ich eine kurze Abhandlung darüber, wie E.H. [Erich Heckel] nach einem Aufenthalt im Alstertal nahe Hamburg bei den Sammler Schiefler aufbrach, um „auf die Suche nach einer Landschaft zu gehen, von der er gewiss sei, dass er in ihr viele Jahre würde arbeiten können.“ – Er fand sie dort, wo Du mit warst – aber nicht als Fremdling, sondern als jüngster unserer mir liebsten Freunde – und sie hat sich bewährt. Die Aquarelle, die von der Förde stammen, gehören zu den Schönsten, und für seine Weise landschaftlicher Darstellung charakteristischsten seiner Arbeiten. – Aber wenn Du diese Landschaft jetzt sähest, würdest Du sie nicht wiedererkennen: Die schöne Ebene vor Langballigau, wo die ‚Fedora‘ mit uns anlegt, ist ganz von Sommerhäusern bestanden. Die Windmühle oben auf dem Berg ist die einzige, die ihre Flügel behalten hat, denn sie steht unter Denkmalschutz (alle andere haben sie verloren und werden mechanisch betrieben), aber unten in ihr befindet sich ein Einkehrlokal […]“

Die ‚Fedora‘ war der Dampfer, welcher die Verbindung mit Flensburg vermittelte. Ich habe heute noch eine Ansichtspostkarte, worauf ich mit verblasstem Bleistift an meine Eltern schrieb: „Vor mir liegt ein schöner beflaggter Dampfer, den wir gleich nach dem Essen besteigen werden. Viele Möwen gibt es hier“.
Die „schöne Ebene“ steht mir klar vor Augen; eine große Kuhweide, bevölkert von dem schönen Angler-Milchvieh, rotbraun mit weißen Hörnern mit schwarzen Spitzen. Heckels hatten auch zwei dieser Tiere auf ihrem Anwesen, betreut von Frau Höppner. Sie war eine stämmige Schleswig-Holsteinische Witwe und sie wollte sich einst totlachen, als ich (sehr kurzsichtig und unbebrillt), um mich vor Ausgleiten zu sichern, mit meiner Hand „mitten in’n Kohschiet“ fasste. Ja, das war komisch: ihre fünfzehnjährige Tochter Lisbet verzog keine Miene, aber Ihre Mutter höre ich noch heute.

Schon vor dem Sommer in Osterholz war ich während der Schulferien einige Male auf dem Land einquartiert worden, und zwar in einem Dorf nahe bei Weimar. Die Pflegemutter war Witwe eines Dorfschullehrers. Wie anders manche Leute im Deutschland der Weimar Republik denken konnten, wurde mir Zwölfjährigem etwas klarer, als ich einst bei Heckels an der Unterhaltung der „Erwachsenen“ teilnehmen wollte. Es wurde von Politik gesprochen, und da ich davon nichts wusste oder verstand, gab ich einige der bei der Lehrerswitwe vernommenen Ansichten zum Besten. Ein etwas verlegenes Schweigen der „Großen“ wurde von Siddis Frage gebrochen, als sie wissen wollte, wie ich zu solchen Ansichten käme? Ich zitierte meine Egeria, und ich kann heute noch Siddi hören, als sie zu ihren Gästen sagte: dass diese Frau zu den Leuten gehören müsse, „von denen Julia uns erzählt hat“. – Heftig errötend wusste ich sofort, was das für Leute waren.

Von dem hohen Ufer sah man weit über das vielgestreifte Wasser der Förde (Erich Heckel hatte mich darauf aufmerksam gemacht, wie viele andere Farben als nur Blau und Grün die See aufweisen konnte) bis nach dem jetzt wieder dänischen Land von Sonderburg-Glücksburg.

Die Küstensegler die zu sehen waren, zogen mich mächtig an, um so mehr als ich sie, der schon erwähnten Myopie halber, nur als perlmuttrige, reich abgestufte Walken [Pyramide] wahrnahm; bei Flaute war oft das ein oder andere Segel stundenlang zu sehen. Beim „Höker“ im Dorf sah ich photographische Postkarten, auf denen die Fahrzeuge klar abgebildet waren.
Diese Erlebnisse haben mein ganzes Leben beeinflusst, denn damals erwuchs in mir die große Liebe zur Schifffahrt, die mich nie wieder verließ.

Ein diesbezügliches Abenteuer war eine Segelpartie, zu welcher beide Heckels mit ihrem Gast eingeladen worden waren. Deutlich entsinne ich mich des Fahrzeugs, ein neugebauter Fischer-Ewer, vielleicht auf Jungfernfahrt. Ich sehe ein langes Schiff, leuchtend schwarz geteert, mit weißer und grüner Bemalung, von dessen zwei ebenfalls weißen Masten und Gaffeln alles in allem fünf lebhaft rotbraune Segel hängen. Eine Schar von Eingeborenen, Männer in blauem, Frauen in schwarzem Sonntagsstaat, mit welcher sich unsere kleine Gruppe mischt, hat an Bord Platz genommen; die Vertauung wird losgemacht und das Schiff streicht durch die Wellen. Wir fahren vielleicht eine Stunde; hin und wieder höre ich etwas von Fischen, die gefüttert werden sollen. Davon hatte ich gar nichts gewusst, es war aber einleuchtend, dass, wenn man Fische fangen wollte, man sie auch zu füttern hatte – so wie ich, unter Frau Höppners wachsamen Auge, oft genug das Heckel’sche Geflügel gefüttert hatte. Jedoch ereignet sich nichts dergleichen; die Fahrt endete, ohne dass mir Details gewärtig sind.
Erst lange danach ging es mir auf, dass ich Stadtkind und Landratte die guten Leute bitter enttäuscht haben muss, indem ich eben nicht seekrank wurde.

Ob Erwin, Neffe von Heckel und gleichaltriger Spielkamerad, der mit mir zusammen seine Ferien in Osterholz verbrachte, bei der Segelpartie gewesen war, kann ich nicht sagen. Dagegen steht unser Schachspielen mir lebhaft vor Augen, vielleicht weil es von Erich Heckels Stift festgehalten worden ist. Ich war aufs Schachspielen vernarrt, und verfertigte ein grosses Aquarell mit einem Schachbrett mit einer Matt-Situation, das auch recht gut ausfiel. Das Lob von Siddi und Erich bewegte mich dazu, ihnen das Blatt zu verehren.
Was mag wohl aus ihm geworden sein?

T. Lux Feininger
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 10. Februar 1998

© The Estate of T. Lux Feininger

Veröffentlichung hier mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Nachlasses von T. Lux Feininger, Westport, MA

Transkript Cecilia A. M. Witteveen

T. Lux Feininger
[German only]

Wie bekannt, baute das Bauhaus in seinen Anfängen den Unterricht auf dem System der Zünfte auf: Lehrling, Geselle, Meister. Von den möglichen Missverständnissen, welche aus dieser Terminologie hervorgehen konnten, ist es unnötig hier zu sprechen. Aber den Begriff, der im Wort „Meister“ liegt, will ich etwas weiterverfolgen.

Wie seine Kollegen, verdankte auch Schlemmer seine Berufung an die Lehrfakultät der Hochschule für Gestaltung seiner vorangegangenen künstlerische Tätigkeit; nachdem er die Anstellung akzeptiert hatte, zeigte sich bald, dass er ein geborener Pädagoge war.

Als ich selbst vor mehr als 40 Jahren zum Kunstlehrer wurde, kam es mir zum Bewusstsein, in welchem Grad ich es Oskar Schlemmer zu verdanken hatte, dass ich meine erste Lehrstelle annehmen und ausfüllen konnte. Mir wurde klar, was alles in dem Begriff „Meister“ enthalten sein konnte - und es war zu jener Zeit, dass ich Schlemmer zu „meinem“ Meister erklärte.

Ursprünglich hatten alle Bauhauswerkstätten zwei Leiter: den Form-Meister und den Werk-Meister. In der neu-organisierten Bühnenwerkstatt in Dessau wurde Oskar Schlemmer beides in einem. Technik und Bühnenpersönlichkeit sind bei ihm nicht zu trennen. Als ein Hauptzug seines Wesens erscheint mir seine Bereitschaft, als Vorbild zu dienen. Was er tat und wollte wurde lebhaft und präzis vorgetragen. Choreograph und Maler in ihm reichten sich die Hand; man kann sagen, dass er seine künstlerischen Ideen verkörperte. In jenen Zeiten konnte ich es nicht verstehen, dass Schlemmer nicht, wie Klee und Kandinsky, Malunterricht anbot, aber heute scheint es mir wahrscheinlich, dass er es vermeiden wollte, als unpolitischer Elitist angefeindet zu werden.

Er malte in der humanistischen Tradition, und nach Gropius‘ Weggang vom Bauhaus politisierte sich die Schule sehr schnell. Schlemmer war seinem Temperament nach ein Einzelgänger; das Theater billigte man ihm zu, weil es sich für politische Propaganda gebrauchen ließ. Die Malerei hingegen musste für das Proletariat zugänglich sein: so verlangte das der dialektische Materialismus.

Was mich zur Schlemmerbühne gezogen hatte, war vor allem meine Passion für Masken; schon bevor ich zum Bauhaus kam, im Herbst 1926, hatte ich Masken entworfen und konstruiert. Die Maske war ein Archetyp, und das Schlemmertheater rührt stark an das archetypische Schauspiel an. Seine Tänzer waren von Kopf bis Fuss maskiert in harnischartigen Verhüllungen: wattierte Torsen und Gliedmaßen und helmhafte Maskenköpfe; die Kostüme waren, neben Textilien aller Art sowie Metallfolien, zum Teil aus plastischem Papiermaché geformt. An anderer Stelle [The Bauhaus: Evolution of an Idea, in CRITISISM Wayne State University 1961] habe ich versucht, einen anlässlich der Eröffnung des neuen Gebäudes gezeigten Bühnenabend zu beschreiben, in dessen Verlauf der Meister dem „Kreis der Freunde des Bauhauses“ die Bühnenelemente demonstriert.

Nach Absolvierung des ersten Vorkurssemesters trat ich im Frühjahr 1927 in die Bühnenwerkstatt ein. Zusammen mit dem ein Jahr später gekommenen Roman Clemens, der eine große Zukunft haben sollte, widmete ich mich vor allem dem Masken- und Kostümbau, obwohl wir alle bei grösseren Veranstaltungen als Statisten mitwirkten.
Der Meister verfügte über ein Kontingent von Volontären, die in andere Werkstätten arbeiteten, aber Ballet und Theater über alles liebten. Dieses Hospitieren lässt sich verstehen, wenn bedacht wird, dass die Bühne und ihr Leben ein Gegengewicht zu den rationalistischen Zielen von Städtebau- und -planung darstellte, und das Mitwirken brachte den Freiwilligen geistige Erholung.

Schlemmers Regie war schon an und für sich eine Produktion. Eine Bühnenprobe war das Element, in welchem er sich am besten ausdrücken konnte. Seine Sprache ist ganz unvergesslich, der Vortrag akzentuiert von Ausrufen; man hörte etwa: „Ha-na! Das geht aber nicht!“ oder gar ein lautes: „Janein!“, was für den Kundigen ein Zeichen des Schwindens der Geduld des Meisters war. Sehr liebte er neue Wortverbindungen; in einem Aufsatz über seine Ziele findet sich die Stelle, „dass in verständlicher Sprache Neues und Unerhörtes gesagt werden solle“. Auch schwelgte er in Alliterationen und barocken Vergleichen; ich beende meine Skizze mit dem wörtlichen Zitat einer Botschaft des Meisters, welche mir mit der Post zugestellt wurde (der letzte Satz bezieht sich auf meine Waffe, einen geerbten Spazierstock, den ich auf den nächtlichen Wegen durch die damals sehr einsame Gegend in die Probe mitnahm und an meinem Sitz lehnte, von wo er ständig mit lautem Krach zu Boden fiel): „Der Eleve Lux wird gebeten, sich künftighin bei Bühnenproben einer größeren Zurückhaltung zu befleißigen. Stöckchen etcetera mitzubringen erscheint nicht wünschenswert.“

T. Lux Feininger
Westport Point, Massachussets, 28. Juni 1992

© The Estate of T. Lux Feininger

Veröffentlichung hier mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Nachlasses von T. Lux Feininger, Westport, MA

Transkript Cecilia A. M. Witteveen, 2019

T. Lux Feininger
[German only]

In zwei Briefen aus den fünfziger Jahren beschreibt mein Vater Autofahrten in den Küstengegenden von Cape Ann (Massachusetts) und längs des Housatonic River (Connecticut). Er spricht seine Liebe für diese Landschaften seiner frühen Jugend aus, und schreibt, dass er sie „sogar noch den Thüringer und Pommerschen Landstraßen und Bauerndörfern vorziehe – was viel sagen will, alter Bursche!“.

Er begründet diesen Vorzug mit der Erwägung, dass „diese bis zu zweihundertjährigen Neu-England Dörfer und Farmen eine ununterbrochene Zivilisation und Kultur ausströmen!“, wobei er es ungesagt sein lässt, wie jäh und verheerend die „Unterbrechnung der Zivilisation“ war, dank derer das Deeper Paradies seinen Anhängern verloren ging.

Die Familie Feininger kam zum ersten Mal im Juni 1924 nach Deep. Mein Vater und ich waren den anderen um 14 Tage vorangezogen und wohnten die ersten Tage bei Frau Fritzner, einer Dame, die mehr im Wilhelminischen Erinnerungen als in der jungen Republik zu leben schien. Geräumige Unterkunft wurde in dem ganz in der Nähe gelegenen Haus von Maurermeister A. Wilke gefunden, in welchem die Familie in den folgenden Jahren die Mittelwohnung im Erdgeschoss bewohnte. Dem Wohn- und Esszimmer vorgelagert war die kleine Veranda, offen gegen den kleinen Vorgarten und den betonierten Fußsteig. Hier entstanden beinahe alle Zeichnungen und Aquarelle, die das Datum der Sommermonate zwischen 1924 und 1935 aufweisen. Wenige Tage vergingen ohne dass mein Vater nicht einige Stunden über seinem Reißbrett auf der Veranda verbrachte, sich gerne von den frei herumwandelnden Wilke’schen Hühnerfamilien und, in einem berühmten Jahr, sogar von einer Schar im Wilke’schen Anwesen geborenen jungen Ferkeln unterbrechen lassend.

Die Ökonomie unserer Wirtsfamilie erscheint durchaus typisch für jene Zeiten: Ein freier Beruf, verbunden mit Kleinbetrieb von Landwirtschaft (zwei Kühe und einige Schweine hielt Frau Wilke) und unterbaut von sommerlicher Vermietung von Zimmern ohne Verpflegung. Das Haus lag dicht am Waldrand, nahe dem „Kieckersteig“, einem ca. 1 KM langen Fußpfad, auf dem man durch den Kiefernwald hindurch den Badestrand von West-Deep erreichte.

Ferien an der See waren für mich was Neues. Mein Vater hingegen ließ anfänglich Vergleiche zwischen unserem momentanen Aufenthalt und der Vorkriegszeit in Heringsdorf hören. Hier war alles viel wilder – oft war Sturm mit brüllender Brandung und zischendem Flugsand; auch war es einsamer hier als in dem so dicht bei Berlin gelegenen Heringsdorf. In einer für die „Baltischen Studien“, einer vor einigen dreißig Jahren geschriebenen Skizze, habe ich versucht darzustellen, wie der ‚genius loci‘ sich ganz allmählich bei dem Maler einschlich und das Vorangegangene, wenn auch nicht vertrieb, es doch auf seinen rechten Platz zu stellen half. Dieser Platz war in meines Vaters Koffer, der jedes Jahr für den Deeper Sommer gepackt wurde und stets eine reiche Auswahl an Vorkriegs-„Notizen“ enthalten musste, welche zur bevorstehenden Sommerarbeit herangezogen werden sollten. Auf diese Weise konnte der Zeitraum zwischen Einst und Jetzt überbrückt werden.

Bei den eben erwähnten Vergleichen hatte mein Vater wohl am meisten den ehemals so reichen Schiffsverkehr längs der Ostseeküste vermisst. Das Beobachten (durch das Fernglas) und zeichnen der Segler auf der Kimm und der Badenden und Spaziergänger am Strande hatte den Künstler zu gewissen Formulierungen geführt, die für sein bildnerisches Schaffen ausschlaggebend werden sollten. Es handelte sich um nichts Geringeres als den Raum an sich – jenes immaterielle Etwas, das zwischen nah und fern „irgendwie“ existierte und gestaltet werden wollte. Ohne Interesse am Gegenstand kommt keine Kunst zustande; das Auge wird angezogen und öffnet sich dem Dargebrachten. Wenn gestaltet wird, beginnt das merkwürdige Drama in dessen Verlauf dem Objekt sein Anreiz entzogen wird, der jetzt dem Subjekt zufällt. Dem Abschluss dieses Prozesses folgt eine Zeitspanne während welcher das Subjekt (der Künstler) von seinem Erzeugnis (ich hätte beinah gesagt, von seiner Beute) emotionell-gedanklich nicht zu trennen ist. Es ist eine Spannung entstanden, mittels derer das dargestellte Erlebnis mit Energie geladen und in der Zeichnung gespeichert wird. – Das Skizzenbuch klappt zu und der Maler geht weiter. Aber die Spannung bleibt erhalten und kann jederzeit wieder eingeschaltet werden.

Stets mussten die Zeichnungen datiert werden, und wenn möglich, auch den Ortsnamen aufweisen. Die Zeit, welche verstreichen konnte, bevor eine bestimmte Skizze oder „Notiz“ zu einer Komposition führte, konnte viele Jahre, sogar Jahrzehnte betragen; aber dass gestalterische Arbeit sofort nach der Heimkehr vom Ausflug, im Laufe dessen eine solche zustande kam, unternommen wurde, trat wohl nie ein. „Aus dem Auge aus dem Sinn!“ schien hier für den Künstler eine Notwendigkeit zu sein, damit das Element der Überraschung wirken konnte – das beinah schlagartige Auftauchen einer Erinnerung aus grauer Vergessenheit

Die Naturzeichnungen können nicht eigentlich als „Studien“ angesehen werden, weil (wenigstens meiner Meinung nach) zu irgendwelchem Studium eine planmässige Anstrengung des Willens nötig ist. Lyonel Feninger dagegen ließ sich gern überraschen. Nicht umsonst hat er von je her darauf bestanden, dass diese Blätter als „Notizen“ anzusehen seien. Er „notierte“ Eindrücke, die er beim Erblicken von Situationen empfing, und demzufolge wären die Naturzeichnungen als „Impressionen“ anzusprechen; aber von seinen frühesten gestalterischen Zeiten an sprach er immer von „Ausdruck“ – „Ich strebe den höchsten Ausdruck an – immer Ausdruck!“ heißt es in seinen Briefen. –

Man kann hier leicht in Wortklauberei verfallen. In dem schon erwähnten Aufsatz in den „Baltischen Studien“, habe ich mich bemüht, den Unterschied zwischen den großen Impressionisten und den nicht kleineren Expressionisten zu definieren und will es hier noch einmal versuchen.

Ein alter Witz beschreibt nationale Charakterzüge von Franzosen und Deutschen indem er behauptet, dass, wenn ein Kamel gemalt werden soll, der Franzose in den ‚Jardin des Plantes‘ geht und es da abmalt, während der ehrliche Deutsche es „aus der Tiefe seines Gemüts schöpft“. Während laut gelacht wird, sollte man nicht gänzlich vergessen, dass in beiden Fällen ein Kamel gemalt wird. Mit anderen Worten: Das Ding ist dasselbe, aber es sieht ganz anders aus. Weder der Gallier noch der Germane haben das Tier erfunden, es existiert auch ohne nationale Vergleiche.

Die kompositorische Arbeit, welche nach der auf die beschriebene Weise entstandenen Notizen einsetzt, kommt einem fortwährenden Hervorrufen eines Momentes der seelischen Verfassung gleich. Die Situation liegt in der Vergangenheit, aber der Moment der Impression ist zeitlos. Ich sehe diese Dynamik als einen religiösen Vorgang an.

T. Lux Feininger
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 31. Dezember 1991

© The Estate of T. Lux Feininger

Veröffentlichung hier mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Nachlasses von T. Lux Feininger, Westport, MA

Typoscript Cecilia A. M. Witteveen, 2019

T. Lux Feininger
A contribution to the history of the Bauhaus (1987)

In its prime the Bauhaus Band was often referred to as the Bauhaus-“Jazz”-Band, this was insofar right as that it played for dancing. At that time American Jazz was still new to Europe, it was received with great enthusiasm but little research had been done. Nowadays it is different, but comparisons between the Bauhaus music and the African-American imports after World War I are impossible since the Bauhaus dances have never been recorded phonographically, in the absence of all other documentation the Band playing is not reproducible. But if one examines the sources where the Bauhaus music flowed from, interesting parallels manifest themselves between the American and the “German” dance music. In both cases the triumphant conquest with the general public were preceded by an almost unknown, long-time und quiet pre-existence: In the United States as in Europe the old existing folk music from an ethnic minority was suddenly seen as a stimulating revival by its hosts. In America these were the blacks, who were not taken seriously. In Germany, the just renewing country of the Weimar Republic, it were the realms of the East – Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Russia, the Balkans and the then Palestine – pushing west with their folk songs, bringing forward something new and unique.
Obviously the standard has to be met: The American renewal circled the globe, while the contribution of the Bauhaus invention was limited to a small circle. However, in their essence, in their foreignness and in the appeal that both found after their first appearance, Bauhaus music and Jazz are indeed comparable.
A closer documentation explores the means that were used playing at the Bauhaus, it will show that it was not an “imitation” of the Americans, but that a spontaneous product came alive for new, although, short existence.

The Bauhaus idea was not killed by the Third Reich, and this idea manifests itself in the dance band as well as in the tubular steel furniture. Therefore it is fitting, to dedicate an essay about the band to the history of the Bauhaus, which I will try to do in the following.

The soil out of which the often changing ensemble grew was the exceptional personality of the founder. At the beginning stands Andreas (Andor or “Andie”) Weininger. He played the piano and sang, although almost inaudible by the onslaught of the many rhythm- and racket instruments. Nevertheless he sang – I still see him today, ecstatically bowed over the keys and gently smiling shaking his head. What sort of tunes were these? – Wild but at the same time melancholic, quick-tempered and furtively fading away; accusing and promising – how should one describe that? We acknowledge this inability and continue with the enumerable musical means. – A remarkable characteristic of the original band was the simplicity of the instruments used: initially there were no string-, wood-, nor brass instruments to be learned. The thought, if and by whom, “Andie” had taken piano lessons, seems ridiculous to me: he was born with this ability. But he was willing to teach others: With great patience and dedication he showed me the nature and structure of the beat and rhythm, whereby the actual learning of the technique (I wanted to play “the drums”) was left to the ingenuity and diligent study by the student.

Next to timpani and drums the complete drum kit had Tomtoms, log drum, cowbells and cymbals, the latter not only swinging on a gibbet but also as a self-constructed foot-operated Hihat-machine. This so-called "Frog" consisted of two rough wooden boards, connected with a hinge on one end and spread apart by a strong spiral spring on the other, to which two opposite-facing brass cymbals were mounted. A heavy kick at just the right moment produced a hell of a noise; had the pedal been precisely aimed the "Frog" stayed in place, if not, the spiral spring shot it out of reach - this is where he might have gotten his name from.

In my painting from 1939 Bauhauskapelle [Bauhaus Band] I pictured the drum kit complete with the "Frog". (I should not fail to mention that in this painting some modifications are made which do not comply with the historical reality)

The “Bumbass” (also called devils fiddle), is also worthy of a description, although not self-constructed: in those days it was available in stores. It consisted of a solid, approx. 1,5 m long, wooden trunk, that carried on the lower end a heavy rubber pad and on the upper end two small, loosely held metal cymbals. On the middle of the trunk was a small drum over which a wire was stretched; a small clapper attached to the wire was mounted over the drumhead in such a way that the vibration of the wire made it strike. The musician held the “Bumbass” vertically in one hand and beat it to the rhythm on the floor, and when the floor was a wooden podium, it produced a muffled thunder, well seasoned with the clinking of the upper cymbals; in the other hand he was holding a wooden saw with big blunt teeth that was rasped across the drum wire: varied with the beating down it generated the small drum roll, the “Um-pa-Um-pa” the rhythm accompaniment for the dancing.

An instrument capable of modulation was the „Flex-a-ton“, it provided next to a rattling clatter a sort of melody-line. A strong, curved steel sheet with a grip, it had two flexible clappers that sounded by shaking: by pressing or releasing the curvature of the resonance sheet the basic tone could be varied; by more or lesser heavy persistent shaking it produced a sort of ringing bassocontinuo.

Another typical instrument that hereby shall be wrested from oblivion, was the “Lotos flute”, the Swanee whistle, this could be claimed as a melody instrument. The sound came, as with any other whistle (the “Flute” was nothing else) without any special “approach” by simply blowing in a notched mouthpiece; due to the big volume of the hard rubber tube a considerable breathing power was needed to keep it going. The sound was varied by a piston that slid throughout the body of the flute: The tone sequence resembled a siren; that is chromatic-constant: hitting the tone-right for longer intervals was counted as sheer luck, and stakkato-effects were almost impossible: but the overall effect of the purring-whimpering, wailing or triumphant-echoing under- or overtone supported the impact of the piano sound and the sound of the whistle was elevated by the “Flex-a-ton”.

The most famous player of these instruments was Alexander („Xanti“) Schawinsky. Simultaneously he handled both instruments, whereby he held the upward facing Lotus flute with his strong horsy teeth and with one hand pumped the piston up and down, with the other hand swung and shook the “Flex-a-ton”. The band playing put him in a state of frenzy that on seeing and hearing him one was reminded of the St. Vitus’ dance.

As described is how I found the band in the spring of 1925 (the last of the Weimar years of the Bauhaus): Four enthusiastic bacchants, each one dressed in a shirt with one of the Bauhaus colors: White, Yellow, Blue and Red. A year and a half later I saw these colors on four banners hanging from the roof of the Bauhaus at the grand opening in Dessau. The Band (now in White) was enriched by a banjo, the first one that I ever heard, Clemens Röseler was the player; in his hands this instrument unfolded its full effect. The first “devils fiddler” Heinrich Koch passed on the “Bumbass” to the no lesser talented Fritz Kuhr; the drums were handled by Werner “Jackson”. – This ensemble is seen on a photographic postcard, taken by Lucia Moholy-Nagy, published at the time of the grand opening of the Bauhaus, together with other images of the institute.

For the big ball in conjunction with the festivities a Berlin Jazz band was engaged. A comparison between the two groups is interesting. The Berliners performed in black formal dress with starched collars, on the podium in front of their seats a small forest of additional instruments was set up on which they “doubled”: Mainly saxophones, from the small soprano through all the levels (alto and tenor) up to baritone, in addition a second trumpet, clarinet etc. – a capital investment of several thousand marks. – What a contrast between the Black-dressed and the Five with the above mentioned orchestration: It is doubtful if the Bauhaus band ever had more than thirty numbers in its repertoire. And yet – the arcadian simplicity triumphed all along the line.

As mentioned, the melodies used by the band came from previously ignored sources, various, mainly more eastern, tribes. To the Bauhaus population this represented something essential and expressed the joy of life and of dance. By and by this music had made friends outside of the school and the group was invited to perform elsewhere.
Now is the time to characterise this music a little closer. They were carefully prepared pieces that had been agreed and defined on during the many rehearsals. And although no musical score existed, and the playing was free and spontaneous, these numbers were entirely different from the essential element of American Jazz: the improvisation during the so called jam session. The names of the pieces were already significant for their peculiarity. For example: When Weininger said: “We play the “Russian””, everybody knew to start in D minor. “The Hungarian” was in E minor etc. A ravishing dance by the name of “The Chromatic” must have been taken from the repertoire of a long lost military band, as well as the most famous of the Bauhaus melodies, the Bauhaus March, its beginning could be sung by the words “Itten-Muche-Mazdaznan” and it came to international renown as the “Bauhauspfiff” [Bauhaus whistle]. “Unika” and “Matuto” point to a mediterranean descent, while the “Bo-la-Bo” sounds dadaistic. Other tunes did not have a name; they were just announced as >u>“The Waltz” or “The Tango”.
It is impossible and also not important to list everything: my point is that during the first couple of years the program obtained a remarkable unity, and, in relation to the described orchestration, it had become a typical Bauhaus product.

As the state Bauhaus in Weimar became the municipal Bauhaus in Dessau, a lot of fundamental changes to the set objectives came about. The turns and twists have often been described and I have also tried to summarise them in a published essay*. * „Painting, Sculpture and the Graphic Arts“ in Concepts of the Bauhaus: Ausstellungskatalog des Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University 1971.
The unity of art and technology, once stipulated by Gropius, transformed into specialization; the handicraft turned into industrial processing, building became architecture. And Walter Gropius made a revolutionary trip to America.

This change was of course noticeable in the band. An Americanization was sought. This thought originated from the enterprising Schawinsky and he knew how to shape it. The Bauhäusler loved Jazz and it may have sounded tempting to have a “real jazz band” in the house. This love explains the many existing photographies from this period, in which again and again the saxophone appears. In two such instruments, as well as a trombone, the capital of an offertory was invested; a clarinet was added though that was paid for by private means [i.e. Feininger Family].

In 1928 the band had a brass choir of three instruments, their players all “doubled” on another instrument. Some of the older members withdrew from playing (Weininger, Jackson, Koch) and were replaced with new blood (“Eddie” Collein, Ernst Egeler, Roman Clemens).
New dances were added to the traditional program, and herein I see the beginning of the signs of deterioration. Schawinsky declared it being useless to play dances that nobody could dance: accordingly he introduced a guest dance teacher from Berlin, who introduced the Bauhäusler into the mysteries of Foxtrot, Charleston and Tango. Although nobody said so out loud, however it is clear that one became “respectable”.

The independence of the original Bauhaus Band was over now. None of us was enough of a musician to keep up with the techniques of specialising into a Jazz band. The vital group that had risen out of the Bohême turned Bourgeois and it ended in compromise, and it was finished by the politically forced closing of the Bauhaus a couple of years later.

T. Lux Feininger
April 1987, Cambridge, Massachusetts

© The Estate of T. Lux Feininger

Published here with kind permission of The Estate of T. Lux Feininger, Westport, MA

Transcript and translation Cecilia A. M. Witteveen

T. Lux Feininger
PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE 1930s and 40s - Opening Address of his Exhibition (1983)

T. Lux Feininger: Photographs of the 1930s/40s
>>>...read more: Click here for the article - Download

T. Lux Feininger
NAVIGATING UNDER CANVAS - A little Sketch by the Artist (1983)

When I began painting, in 1929, sailing craft of all kinds hat not yet totally disappeared from the waters of the European coasts. I am speaking of vessels in which people worked for their daily bread, not of sports boats. Yachts, whether large or small, were in those times fashioned in accordance with the latest discoveries in aerodynamics; their sailplans were scientific but also very boring to behold, and I was not tempted to portray them. The reasons why the workboats did not transform themselves into motorboats in those times of progress, were financial: all was not well with the European economy. The poverty of the fishing and coasting population was riches to the lover of the sailing craft.

I painted scenes with ships, harbors, beaches etc., not because I wanted to depict ships, but because I wanted to make pictures. The difference, however, became clear to me only later and gradually. I always thought that I was called upon to explain something esoteric, when asked again and again why I did ships? Had I ever been a sailor? Were some of my ancestors sailors? etcetera. These stupid (as they seemed to me) and really impertinent questions were due to hidden disapproval. The view of the times was, that painting “ought to be abstract”, especially of course the painting of someone studying at the Bauhaus (as I was then doing). Representational art was at a low point in public esteem. This type of interrogation annoyed me the more as I actually did not know “why ships” and so on.

The reaction of society to my pictures, when first exhibited (at the Kunstverein at Erfurt) in the winter of 1930-31, was reassuring: they were approved by at least one person with an eye for the new art of a young painter, i.e. there were sales. This was something different, both from the type of question I have referred to, and from another kind of commentary, which, while meant kindly, was equally beside the point if it stated that my ships were nautically correct, so that “the grumpiest old seadog” found nothing to criticize. Such praise might be balm to my vanity, but was unearned. This kind of old salt exists in all countries, and is known to go for nothing but details. No one could tell whether the topsail brace was reeved properly in my pictures, because I did not paint this detail as well as x-number of others for that matter. – No; if my pictures stood the test of public appearance, it was due solely to their sincerity as pictures. I loved my subject-matter, in my own way, and not without an admixture of self-persiflage, but honestly. I tried with all my powers to comprehend the life and nature of navigation - but as a painter, not as a frustrated amateur sailorman. Some ship’s boy I should have been, what with my nearsightedness and lefthandedness! – Thus, it was the essential, and not the details, that mattered.

What was essential about navigating under canvas? – First and foremost, that this was the way in which the oceans were crossed since the earliest times. Not as a poverty-stricken remnant in backwaters, but as honored and admired supreme manifestations of human skills and common sense – this what I wanted my ships to be. My “Marines” were scenes which I never saw nor could have seen. I invented them according to my needs. This form of art was destined later to be re-discovered, after society had decreed that “subject-matter” was once again respectable, when it was christened “Magic Realism”. I learned to my flattered surprise that I had been one of its co-founders. Fantasy and imagination, then, had played an important role from the first. The ability to draw does not depend on the choice of any particular subject. It is not so very different from the ability to learn to write. Once the skill has been acquired, one is in a position to write, or to draw, anything he pleases. It is possible to study objects which have disappeared from the contemporary scene - and I may truthfully say that I did study ships.

This quick sketch of my early artistic attitudes shows that, in my youth, I sided, for emotional reasons (whose nature was too complex for me to understand) with the obsolete and possibly even embittered mariners of my environment – in other words, I must have been a “conservative”. This would be confirmed by my refusal to accept the contemporary marconi rig of yachts as subjects for my brush. And, to fill the cup, my fellow-students at the Bauhaus deemed me a black reactionary, because I not only painted “representationally”, but, of all things, such antiquated stuff as sailing boats, to which at least one zealous critic added the supreme reprobation that these vessels sailed “under the flags of Capitalist France, England and America”! – They may have been right in judging me an unaccommodating sort of fellow-student; but they were wrong in regard of my paintings, because “reactionary” means rejection, denial and hatred; whereas my pictures had their origin in my love of the world we live in.

As others had done, I had chosen a sector of life which seemed particularly adequate for my needs, and within this sector I tried to represent the way in which Man took up the challenge of Nature, as he followed the ancient call, not to be disregarded, to go to sea. I wanted to bring back to life the ships, boats and barges in which this went on; those vessels that penetrated to the far corners of the globe, manned by those mysterious beings who had such skills and an undaunted courage and hardihood, and who were so very poorly paid for their service; who went to sea because they did not know anything else other than that they were born to it. – And I had found out that I had been born to be a painter. I admit, however, that I neither was, nor am, entirely free from romantic notions.

In the summer of my twenty-second year I did some sailing on the Baltic coast in a rented fishing boat. Its owner came out with me a few times, at my request, to teach me a few useful knots, splices and similar wrinkles of elementary seamanship. It was to remain the only occasion where I had been at sea in company with a man whose life and livelihood depended on a sailing work-boat. His instruction left a lasting impression on me, to the point where I want to mention him here with gratitude. His name was Martin Tiegs, of West-Deep.

T. Lux Feininger
March 1983, Cambridge, Massachusetts

© The Estate of T. Lux Feininger

Published here with kind permission of The Estate of T. Lux Feininger, Westport, MA

Transcript Cecilia A. M. Witteveen

First publication: Randlage/Querlage 2
RANDLAGE 22/23, special English Issue, 1987
Editor: Valentin Rothmaler, Plön in Holstein
Limited edition of 100 copies

T. Lux Feininger
EAST RIVER WINDOW – The 1946 Telescope View Experiment (1983)

A Window on the East River – The 1946 Telescope View Experiment
Essay accompanying the exhibition “T. Lux Feininger – Photographs of the 30s and 40s” at Prakapas Gallery New York, 17 June – 15 July 1983


In the spring of 1946, I designed for myself an optical system for making tele-photographs. I had neither the funds nor any inclination to spend money on such expensive equipment, but I found through experimentation that my old Zeiss prismtype binoculars (made in the 1890s) could be adaped to the lens of my Pilot single-lens reflex camera of 1940. The only difficulty to overcome when photographing with this system was vibration caused by the heavy shutter, which was very noticeable with the long exposures required. But when there was time to brace the outfit properly, very satisfactory images could be produced. The system yielded approximately six times linear magnification. For greater ease of handling and faster exposure times I devised a combination with a pair of light-weight opera glasses, which gave about three times linear magnification. The three views of the clock in the tower of the Metropolitan Life Insurance C. building illustrate the rate of magnification and proportionate diminution of the field of vision of the two adapters as compared to the unaided lens. – The East River pictures were made with the Zeiss, while the Florida pictures were partly made with the stronger, partly with the lesser, adapter.


The window was located on the eleventh floor of 235 East 22nd St., Manhattan, where my parents lived for more than thirty years. In the summer of 1946, I had the daytime use of this apartment for a painting studio. In spare moments I amused myself by watching and photographing the traffic on the East River. A tiny section of this maritime highway could be espied at the end of a visual tunnel, a gap between a tall loft building on the left and, on the right, by huge storage tanks of a Gas Company which were later taken down, the entire area being cleared for a housing project. The pictures taken with the unassisted lens of my camera show the ordinary view seen through this peep-hole. My patient system changed the prospect quite drastically. It was well that I did not wait until I could command better equipment, for at the beginning of the following year, the development of Peter Cooper and Stuyvesant Villages had plugged the river view like a cork does a bottle.

T. Lux Feininger
1983, Cambridge, Massachusetts

© The Estate of T. Lux Feininger

Published here with kind permission of The Estate of T. Lux Feininger, Westport, MA

Transcript Cecilia A. M. Witteveen

T. Lux Feininger
BAUHAUS PHOTOGRAPHY - Notes by the Artist on his Exhibition (1980)

BAUHAUS-PHOTOGRAPHY - Photographs of the Twenties and Thirties by T. Lux Feininger - Notes by the artist on his exhibition at the Prakapas Gallery, New York, 1980

Most of these pictures were taken at the Bauhaus in the latter 1920s; a few words of commentary seem necessary. I came to the school as a student of Oskar Schlemmer’s stage workshop in 1926, already at home with the photographic processes and accustomed to take my camera and a supply of plates in their holders with me whenever I went out. Had I wanted to, I could not have studied photography at the Bauhaus of this period, because it was not taught. Only toward the end of 1929 a photography laboratory and darkroom were established at the school, when Walter Peterhans began to offer instruction in photography. The absence of acquaintance with this discipline amongst the earlier student population is almost a cause of wonder.

There were a few people who praticed it – besides the well-known Lucia and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the names of a few others come to my mind: Erich Consemüller, Ruth Hollos, Lou Berkenkamp-Scheper – but they remained very much in the background, and came out only on special occasions, to photograph events of general interest. The most outstanding of these was the grand enactment of Oskar Schlemmer’s cherished dream of using the total Bauhaus architecture – roofs, balconies, terrace – for the outdoor staging of his “Mensch im Raum” idea, his humanistic symbol of the mission of art. Everybody able to point a camera and press a shutter showed up for this demonstration. The book on the “Theatre of the Bauhaus” illustrated with photographs taken on this great day and in ones of them the writer of these lines is visible, identifiable by this dark-rimmed glasses and wearing “plus-fours”.

Despite my youth, I had an idea and I knew what I was about. I was several years older and wiser in my photography than in the conduit of other Bauhaus-related affairs, although in fairness to myself I must insist that I tried to take my work in Schlemmer’s workshop very seriously. My father, and Schlemmer as well – both of them very kind and understanding influences in my life – used to excuse my occasional lapses from serious deportment with my being lefthanded, and they may have been right. Since I did not lack manual skills, however, it is at least debatable whether the lefthandedness was not psychological rather then manual-physical in the unintentional manifestations for which it was blamed. Personally I suspect that this was the case, and I may be able to explain what I mean by this statement.

It must have been in 1927 that Otto Umbehr (“Umbo”), a former Bauhaus student from Weimar days, saw my photographs and suggested that I get in touch with S. H. Guttmann, whose agency DEPHOT in Berlin devoted itself to the propagation of the “New Photography”. The introduction by this star cameraman had a favorable effect on Guttmann, and my meeting with him led to a contract beween the agency and myself, and incidentally, also with my two brothers. Andreas’ work is too famous to need my explanation, but the fact that my brother Laurence, for a brief period, took very attractive and highly imaginative still-life photos of dolls and other toys made by our mother and father, is less well known. I do not know that any of his pictures were ever published, however, he and Andreas also withdrew soon from DEPHOT. But my pictures went well with art editors and publishers of various periodicals, ranging in political spectrum from the severly bourgeois “Die Woche” to the “Arbeiterfotograf” of declared proletarian interest. Various organs of the Broadcasting Industry were amongst the most regular customers, such as “Die Funkstunde”, “Der Rundfunk”, etc. Unfortunately I did not keep any files on published work or on the various exhibitions of contemporary photography to which I sent entries. As to book-keeping of my earnings, I never gave it a thought. This may tell something of the idyllic past before the taxman became a public menace, but it says even more about juvenile heedlessness and there is no excuse.

My participation in the international exhibition “Film und Foto Stuttgart 1929” was responsible, fifty years later, for a revival of interest in my Bauhaus pictures. Ute Eskildsen, the curator of the department of photography of the Folkwang Museum in Essen, succeeded in rounding up an almost complete count of vintage prints of mine, which had figured in the original show, when it was reconstructed in 1979 as a semicentennial Memorial exhibition. They had to be “vintage prints”, because I have lost almost all my negatives of the European years. They have been “missing” somewhere in Germany ever since the last war.

I was struck with some of the discoveries I made, when I reviewed my old pictures with critical intention in connection with this renewed activity. Point of view of the photographer, as well as his former environment, appeared in a new light. For example, I perceived how the ‘ambience’ of the Bauhaus atmosphere (rather than details of daily life) had helped to fashion a partially unconscious point of view. I had not previously observed how much of a satirical intention was perceptible in choice of subject matter and in handling it. The sheer prevalence in number, of clowning and grimacing pictures, is an indication of what I am speaking of. It became clearer to me that there was a two-way traffic here: not only were my “models” everlastingly ready to “cut up”, but I, too, must have been very ready to photograph their antics. My self-critique led me to conclude that I was protesting against something in these pictures, and I found out what this may have been. I had judged the “official” Bauhaus tone-setters (they were the architects under Gropius and the “dialectic materialists” under his successor Hannes Meyer) guilty of taking themselves to damned seriously, and that they needed “taking down”.

This insight began with my noticing the recurrence of pictures of flooded roofs. “Das flache Dach” (the flat roof) was, of course, the very symbol of modern architecture; it is well known how, in the eyes of the Hitlerites, “das flache Dach” summarized the share of architecture in “degenerate art”. These flat roofs of the Bauhaus buildings did not drain off as well as they should have; hence, these photos are ridiculing the failure to function of “functional design”.
Another picture (unfortunately no longer available) did the same for the “new material” and their extravagant claims of modernity: I had spotted some outside surface somewhere, with paint magnificently flaking off in large, curled patches. I waited patiently for the right kind of light – casting extra long shadows – to take my shot, which got publised as the splendid specimen of handling texture by a “new photographer”.

But the real significance of this type of work dawned on me only recently, and in conjunction with figurative themes. If my drawing of the ranks of the Bauhaus population as the doers of the world’s work on the one side and the drones and clowns on the other, is perhaps a little to drastic, at least it will make clear which side I and the camera were on. The attitude towards free painting lacked definition in the Bauhaus years. During the “Unity” phase at Weimar, it was mutually agreed that painting was neither better nor worse than, say, weaving or building furniture. Everything, all the crafts, belonged in the spectrum of faculties to be excercised for the sake of “Gestaltung” [design]. More recently, production had replaced unity as a chief concern, and even the word “profitable” was no longer a stranger in the consideration of such concepts as functionalism or usefulnes. In Dessau, the erstwhile “Baubüro” had been replaced by an architecture department, with regular technical courses such as statics, math, graphics, materials, etc. But there were not other departments.

Kandinsky taught “Analytical drawing”, with attendance required for all students, Klee likewise had a mandatory class in Dessau, although I cannot remember its official name. Neither of the two was a painting class, of course. Problems relating to color were handled by the “Wandmalerei” (wall painting shop), where the study of materials and techniques of housepainting were combined with problems of color design and color theory. It is to be noted, that, at the re-organization of the curriculum, color-theoretical studies had been removed from the “Vorkurs” (Fundamental Design), of which they had previously formed an integral part. This furter reduction of the “unity” principle weighed the scales more heavily in favor of architectural art (i.e. mural work), since the only place open to a student for color studies was the construction-oriented “Wandmalerei”. Studio or “easel” painting simply was not wanted by the school, and the official wish seemed to be, that it would go away. Irritatingly, the opposite took place – demands for it became louder; more students turned toward freer approaches in art. For a brief time around the changing of the directorship from Gropius to Meyer it had looked as if things might go better for the painters. Hannes Meyer had made reassuring remarks relative to the importance he allowed to the visual arts. We found soon, however, that Gropius’ honest indifference toward these matters was preferable to Meyer’s social consciousness. Within a very short time, the official position in regard to the freedom of the arts was completely turned around. In the first phase, the constructivists had taken it for granted that figurative painting was dead; painting, henceforth, would be abstract, to better serve the ends of architecture: a prophecy first uttered by the “Stijl”-man Van Doesburg, who had made himself heard in the Weimar times. By the time the Meyer era had begun, “Die Neue Sachlichkeit” (the new realism) had reintroduced all the illusionist elements into easel art, and ‘content’ only counted, where only yesterday all power had been with ‘form’. Abstract painting, in particular, was deplored because the working classes did not know what to do with it. So long as the picture possessed social significance, no one cared how it was conveyed. Where art is scrutinized in this fashion, accusations of elitism are not far off, and the painters were not spared from such strictures.

My first exhibited paintings, displayed on the walls of the Bauhaus vestibule, were dealt with harshly in the “review” published by a student news sheet which appeared weekly for a while during the Meyer regime. The critic stated that there was no room here “for the ships sailing under the flags of Capitalist France, England and the United States, of the ‘Herr’ Lux Feininger.”

By this time (which coincides with my last Bauhaus photographs) the lines were indeed firmly traced, an no quarter was given on either side. Just prior to these alingments, Paul Klee had sensed something coming, when he published his famous essay in the “Zeitschrift für Gestaltung” (the Bauhaus periodical), which begins with the words: “We construct and construct, yet intuition continues to be a good thing. Much can be done without it: but not everything”. But neither his, nor Oskar Schlemmer’s efforts toward conciliating the opposing parties within the school could prevail over the intensification of polar ideologies, and both men withdrew from the scene before the last chapter had been written.

Photography escaped this soul-searching, because it did not exist – that is to say, officially. It was neither art, nor an established workshop – I have already pointed out how, for a long time, its possibilities were simply overlooked. People enjoyed my pictures – the same ideologists, who tore my “capitalist” sailing ships apart, saw nothing wrong with the way I handled my camera. A camera is a machine, and machines can’t be wrong. Never mind the man who is pointing it this way and that.

A word or two on the Bauhaus and I shall be done. The prevalence of pictures with musical instruments hints at the popularity of jazz, not only at the Bauhaus, but in all of Germany until the Nazi times. The ambassador of Western culture had carried post-war society by storm. The Bauhaus jazz band was formed in the early twenties, and continued, with varying membership, until the end of the school. For three years I was an active member of it, having sworn to myself when I first heard the band playing (I was only fifteen) that I would not rest until I had achieved it. My participation in the mini-collective of the dance band is the fourth element in my Bauhaus education. Amongst the activities which occupied me fully, only one (the work in the stage class) was taught by a Bauhaus master; the other three (photography, painting, band playing) were self-taught. Moreover, the training I received under Oskar Schlemmer, was never put to practical use in the theatre, i.e. I did not try to make stage design my profession after graduating from the Bauhaus.

The comparison of study subjects and self-taught accomplishments, made in the light of later life and subsequent experience, seems to me to indicate that my Bauhaus education was successful in ‘gestalting’ [designing] the man, if not his products. Through stimulus and resistance, I learned to probe more deeply into resources lying hidden within my potential, which is a prime objective of education.

I not only discovered convincingly, that I was a two-dimensional man of pictures, but beyond this, that my interest in the visible world permitted a fruitful interchange of photography and painting. The fear of my early painting times, that “serving two masters (camera and easel)” would inhibit the development of pictorial ideas, was proven in the long run to have been unfounded. In the last ten or more years, I have made extensive and constructive use of photographs in my painted work.


There are some pictures in this exhibition which belong to the Bauhaus period in time, but not subject. DEPHOT was still representing me, but I do not think that any of these works were published. They seem to me equal of the Bauhaus scenes, except that in conscious and deliberate approach they are superior – depending on whether one rates intuitive talent, or a directed effort backed by experience, the higher. I like the pictures especially, because they bring out something of the man in the street, ‘strasse’ or ‘rue’, as the case may be. The fact that, in one of the pictures, animals take the place of the man in the street, only heightens my satisfaction. After I left Germany, poverty prohibited the pursuit of photography for a number of years. In 1946, when I was able to resume it again, it had become a private affair: I sought neither to exhibit nor publish. This restraint notwithstanding, I think that the time between 1946-1951 is the period when I worked the most intensely and consciously at problems of photography. Illness, and soon after recovery from it, a transfer from New York to Cambridge, Mass., ended all other than family album photography for me.

T. Lux Feininger
Westport Point, Massachusetts, August 2, 1980

© The Estate of T. Lux Feininger

Published here with kind permission of The Estate of T. Lux Feininger, Westport, MA

Transcript Cecilia A. M. Witteveen

T. Lux Feininger
Ein Beitrag zu "Bauhaus und Bauhäusler" (1971) [German only]

Ich bin mit dem Bauhaus und am Bauhaus aufgewachsen. Ich war neun Jahre alt, als mein Vater aufgefordert wurde, Gründungsmitglied zu werden. Das machte unseren Umzug von Berlin nach Weimar erforderlich. Wie ich mich entsinne, war das von einer Reihe erfreulicher Umstände begleitet. Die ersten Frühlingstage nach dem Krieg waren Tage voller neu aufkeimender Hoffnung.
Ich liebte die Stadt und die Umgebung von Weimar, doch am meisten mochte ich die Bauhaus-Atmosphäre. Als Kind macht man sich keine Gedanken um den Ursprung und die Geschichte der Dinge, und so lernte ich die anziehenden Leute, ihre Werke und die Aufmerksamkeit, die sie mir und meinen Arbeiten schenkten, kennen als etwas, das es vielleicht schon immer gegeben hatte, das aber ganz sicher einen sehr angenehmen und erfreulichen Kontrast bildete zu den muffigen Fächern auf dem Gymnasium. Die Leute vom Bauhaus liebten die Fröhlichkeit, überließen sich dem Spiel, gaben sich dem Feiern von Festen hin; eine Lampionserenade unter unseren Fenstern am Geburtstag meines Vaters wird immer unvergesslich für mich bleiben. In den folgenden Jahren drängten sich, ganz unvermeidlich, andere Ereignisse in die Hochstimmung des Neubeginns, und als ich sieben Jahre später selbst Student des Bauhauses wurde (der jüngste, den man je zugelassen hatte), hätte ich mich vielleicht noch dunkel an meine kindliche Anteilnahme erinnern können, wäre ich nicht in einer völlig neuen, gänzlich anderen Verfassung gewesen, so dass mir alles wie eine ganz neue Welt vorkam.

40 Jahre sind seit jener Zeit vergangen; und je mehr ich über das staune, was mir einst so vertraut gewesen ist, desto mehr Staunenswertes eröffnet sich mir. Diese Entdeckungen beruhen auf zwei verschiedenen, einander aber doch berührenden Anschauungen. Ich hätte nie gedacht, welchen Einfluss die Schule auf meine Entwicklung genommen und welche Formungskraft sie hatte, ganz besonders nicht, welche Einmaligkeit, weIche Tiefe, welch kritisches Wahrnehmungsvermögen sie in einer Gemeinschaft vermittelte, in die ich als junger Mensch so unkritisch hineinspazierte, wie man vielleicht gelegentlich in eine am Weg liegende alte Kirche hineingerät; etwas, das es »immer gegeben hat«. Ich entdecke, dass es das nicht immer gegeben hat und dass es das bald auch nicht mehr geben wird. Ich muss versuchen zu trennen zwischen der persönlichen Erinnerung und der ganz allmählichen Erkenntnis der gesellschaftlichen Bedeutung dessen, was als »Bauhaus« bekannt ist, ein Gebilde, entstanden aus dem Zusammenwirken vieler. Am Anfang all dessen standen die Vision und der Genius von Walter Gropius. Niemals zuvor traf das Wort des Propheten, der zu Hause verhöhnt wird, mehr zu als in seinem Fall. Seine Botschaft beginnt, wie könnte es anders sein, mit einem Wort. Seine Schöpfung wollte er »DAS BAUHAUS – Hochschule für Gestaltung« nennen. Das Wort Gestaltung verkörpert dabei die Philosophie, die ihm vorschwebte.

Wenn »Bauhaus« allerdings den mittelalterlichen Begriff »Bauhütte«, Zentrum der Kathedralenbauer, wieder aufnimmt, dann ist das Wort Gestaltung alt, bedeutungsträchtig und so schwer zu übersetzen, dass es Eingang ins Englische gefunden hat. Über die Bedeutung des Gestaltens, des Formens, des Durchdenkens hinaus hat es etwas, das die Gesamtheit einer solchen Schöpfung, eines Kunstwerkes oder einer Idee, hervorhebt. Es lässt Nebelhaftes, Diffuses nicht zu. In seiner ganzen philosophischen Bedeutung ist es Ausdruck des platonischen »eidolon«, des Urbildes, der vorexistenten Form. Das Gefühl für das enge Nebeneinandersein des reinen Gedankens und der konkreten Substanz ist typisch deutsch. Am Sinn und Widersinn der Gedichte von Christian Morgenstern wage ich nicht zu entscheiden, was überwiegt. Einer seiner Vierzeiler spricht, die Gründung des Bauhauses vorwegnehmend, von der Tragik zwischen Geist und Körper, und das bleibt, auch wenn ich zum Ergebnis kommen muss, dass es keine bewusste Parallele dazu geben kann, eine seltsam treffende Vorwegnahme: Wenn ich sitze, möcht ich nicht sitzen wie mein Sitzfleisch möchte, sondern wie mein Sitzgeist sich, säße er, den Sitz sich flöchte.

Noch während Gropius in der Armee diente, hatte man ihn aufgefordert, die Neugründung und mögliche Zusammenlegung zweier Schulen in Weimar zu planen: der Hochschule für bildende Kunst und der Kunstgewerbeschule, die beide unter der Schirmherrschaft des Großherzogs von Sachsen-Weimar standen. Ausgestattet mit allen Vollmachten und mit Geld, konnte Gropius 1919 die ersten drei Künstler berufen: Johannes Itten, Lyonel Feininger und Gerhard Marcks. Paul Klee und Oskar Schlemmer nahmen den Ruf 1921 an, Kandinsky 1922 und Moholy-Nagy 1923. Unter diesen sieben Künstlern waren sechs Maler und ein Bildhauer; und nur einer von ihnen, Johannes Itten, besaß feste Vorstellungen von Kunsterziehung und hatte zuvor bereits Kunst gelehrt. Sie alle sollten »Form-Meister« sein und jeweils zusammen mit einem technischen »Werk-Meister« einen der Ausbildungszweige Schreinerei (Möbel), Metallbearbeitung, Weberei, Keramik, Farbdesign (Wandmalerei), Steinmetzerei, Druckerei, Buchbinderei und Glasbearbeitung leiten. Die Bühnenwerkstatt gewann erst ganz allmählich Bedeutung.
Gropius nannte das Studienprogramm, das er entworfen hatte und anlässlich der Eröffnung der Schule vortrug, »Idee und Aufbau des Staatlichen Bauhauses«; eine Zeitschrift für Gestaltung wurde ins Leben gerufen, in der der Ausbildungsgang dargelegt wurde nach dem Vorbild der Künstler-Innungen in Deutschland, aufbauend auf den Ausbildungsstufen Lehrling – Geselle – Meister. Durch die starke Betonung des Handwerks sollte eine Theorie der Gestaltung entstehen, wobei Praxis und Theorie aus dem gemeinsamen Geist der Architektur des Gesamtgefüges inspiriert werden sollten. Das waren die Grundzüge, nach denen sich das Leben und die Lehre am Bauhaus entfalteten.

Heutzutage wird der Begriff »revolutionär« vielleicht ein wenig zu leichtfertig für ein neues Waschmittel oder irgendeine Finesse am neuesten Automodell gebraucht, die Idee des Bauhauses war aber tatsächlich revolutionär; nicht weil – wie viele denken – die am Bauhaus entworfenen Stühle, Gefäße, Lampen usw. anders aussahen als andere Lampen, Gefäße und Stühle, sondern weil das Bauhaus einen anderen pädagogischen Ansatz hatte. Wo hat es im vorrevolutionären Deutschland – oder anderswo – eine Schule gegeben, auf der die Lehrer ihre Studenten genau befragten, was und wie sie lernen wollten?

Man kann es nicht oft genug wiederholen: Wenn auch die Produkte des Bauhauses später eine bestimmte Richtung einschlugen, so war am Anfang keine feste Vorstellung davon geplant. Sogar ausgesprochenes Industrie-Design, Entwerfen neuer Produkte für die Massenproduktion, wurde zunächst nicht »gelehrt«, so charakteristisch dieses auch späterhin werden mochte. Auch wenn Gropius vielleicht eine vage Vorstellung gehabt hatte, die Studenten hatten keine. Das änderte sich sehr bald – verfrüht, wie die Formmeister dachten – durch den steten äußeren Druck von Seiten der Gesetzgeber, die ihren Geldgebern »Ergebnisse« vorweisen wollten. Die wirklich revolutionäre Konzeption liegt in der Methode des Lehrens und nicht in den Produkten, die entstanden. Gropius' unerschütterliche Idealvorstellung war das »gemeinschaftliche Kunstwerk – ein Gesamtgefüge« (der »Bau«), und um das zu verwirklichen, mussten Mittel und Wege gefunden werden. Sein Plan war, eine Gruppe stark ausgeprägter Individualisten in einem Kern zu formieren, der Breitenwirkung haben sollte. Wer, zum Beispiel in der Malerei, einmal die »äußere Form« gefunden hat, muss diese Form auch auf andere Gebiete übertragen können. Ohne dass der Maler oder Bildhauer seine berufsspezifischen Techniken aufgibt, muss er seine Schöpfung im Bereich der »äußeren Form« auf alle Studienbereiche übertragen können; er darf nicht »Malerei« unterrichten, sondern muss »äußere Form« lehren. Zweifellos ein sehr hohes Ziel. Doch es wurde erreicht. Es hätte aber nie erreicht werden können, wenn die ersten Studentenjahrgänge nicht das gewesen wären, was sie waren; »zielstrebig« würden wir heute sagen, durch Entbehrungen, Not und Elend und Resignation über das Versagen eines Systems, hungrig nach geistiger Wiedergeburt. Sie kamen mit der Bereitschaft zum Experimentieren ans Bauhaus. Mit der Flucht des Kaisers war ganz plötzlich ein autoritäres Zeitalter zu Ende gegangen.

Aus dem politischen, wirtschaftlichen und moralischen Chaos rief man die fortschrittlichen Intellektuellen, die gestern noch eine verachtete Minderheit waren, zur Mithilfe bei der Neubildung des Gesellschaftssystems auf. Dieses völlig neue, schockierende Vordringen des Bauhaus-Ideengutes war nur möglich, weil eine ganze Gruppe im Kampf gegen Barbarei und Reaktion ein gemeinsames Ziel anstrebte. In ihrem Abgekapseltsein war nichts Wirklichkeitsfremdes. Es war nur der in diesem Stadium erforderliche Pioniergeist, der dieser Gruppe zur Aufgabe machte, sich in Deutschland zu etablieren. Alle waren arm – die Inflation sorgte dafür; aber die Bauhaus-Gemeinschaft verkörperte im Anfang die »Armen im Geiste«. Der Lebensstandard war niedrig (die finanzielle Situation wurde so schwierig, dass das Unterrichtsgeld völlig abgeschafft werden musste), die Ziele waren hoch. Die Bauhäusler von 1920 sahen hohlwangig und hohläugig aus, trugen auffallende Bekleidung, liefen barfuß in Sandalen herum, die Männer hatten lange Locken, die Frauen Bubiköpfe, und sie verursachten ständig irgendwelchen Ärger in der Öffentlichkeit. Doch unter diesem exzentrischen Äußeren verbarg sich Begeisterung für eine Idee, ein brennendes Streben nach Vergeistigung, die Bereitschaft, auf der Suche danach die verrücktesten Fehler zu machen – eine Horde Suchender aus einem Stück von Dostojewski. Begeisterung und tiefe Niedergeschlagenheit bei ihnen wechselten einander ab. Sie waren unermüdliche Streiter, heute Widersacher und voller Anschuldigungen, morgen von gemeinsamem, rastlosem Tatendrang, wenn es die Sache erforderte.
Zwar misstrauten sie aller Führung und sträubten sich gegen »Beeinflussung«, doch sie konnten auch Selbstdisziplin und Loyalität ihrem Direktor und ihren Lehrern gegenüber bekunden, wenn Gefahr von außen drohte. Lyonel Feiningers erste Eindrücke, die er über die zukünftigen Studenten schriftlich niederlegte, waren folgende: »Mai 1919: Die Studenten, die ich bisher gesehen habe, sehen sehr selbstbewusst aus. Fast alle waren beim Militär, es ist ein neuer Menschenschlag, eine neue Generation. Sie sind keineswegs so zahm und harmlos, wie es sich die alten Professoren hier vorstellen. (»Die alten Professoren« gehörten zur Vorkriegsfakultät der Akademie; sie zogen sich bald nach der Bauhaus-Eröffnung zurück.)
Mai 1919: Wie oft bin ich in diesen Tagen mit der Tatsache konfrontiert worden, dass diese jungen Leute keine Kinder mehr sind… dass sie nichts hinnehmen, ohne es vorher gnadenlos zerpflückt zu haben… Für sie ist Expressionismus das Symbol ihrer Generation und ihrer Sehnsucht.

Juni 1919: Diese Gespräche mit den Studenten gehören zu den Dingen, die mich am meisten beschäftigen. Ich grüble häufig darüber nach, wie man eine gemeinsame Arbeit mit den Studenten aufbauen kann. Ich glaube, jetzt hab ich's: sie leiten und ihnen helfen, ganz offen mit ihnen reden und Gedanken und Ideen mit ihnen austauschen. Ich fühle mich reich und stark, ich bin überzeugt davon, dass ich ihre Entwicklung mitformen kann, ohne sie zu etwas zwingen zu müssen, was ihnen fremd ist. Das Vertrauen, das sie in mich setzen, ist wundervoll.«

Die Formmeister konnten Privatschüler unterrichten, aber zum offiziellen Lehrplan gehörte keine Klasse für Malerei. Lyonel Feininger wurde die Leitung der »Druckerei-Werkstatt« übertragen.
Die Haltung, die Gropius den Schönen Künsten gegenüber einnahm, ist in dem eingangs erwähnten Bericht (Idee und Aufbau) niedergelegt: »Der pädagogische Grundfehler der Akademien war die Einstellung auf das außerordentliche Genie, anstatt… dass kleinere Begabungen dem Werkleben des Volkes durch entsprechende Schulung nutzbar gemacht wurden…« Klarer kann er es nicht sagen, sowohl was Ablehnung von vorangegangenen Einstellungen anbelangt als auch zur Feststellung der neuen Richtung. Wie andere ideologische Feststellungen ist auch diese nicht frei von Paradoxa. Die ethisch wertvolle republikanische Ablehnung der veralteten akademischen Hierarchie ging von einem Manne aus, der in seinem Innersten ein Gentleman und Aristokrat war. Um eine Schule aufzubauen, deren Leistungsniveau nach seinen Bewertungsmaßstäben niedriger sein musste, lud er berühmte Maler ein, für die die Möglichkeit bestand, unter seiner Nase eine neue Akademie ins Leben zu rufen. Diese Gefahr wurde abgewendet, nicht ohne häufige Auseinandersetzungen und gelegentlich einen massiven Krach: Die Sitzungen des »MeisterRates« führten oft zu heftigen Debatten.

Lassen Sie mich kurz zu Lyonel Feininger zurückkehren: Die Zitate zeigen deutlich, wie sehr sich der Künstler bemühte, die völlig veränderten Verhältnisse mit neuen Augen zu sehen. Dies traf für alle zu, die ans Bauhaus berufen wurden, außer für Itten, der das alles schon kannte. Sie alle neigten von Natur aus mehr dazu, sich in den Geist der Zusammenarbeit anhand eines gemeinschaftlichen Lehrplans einzufügen als mein Vater, der an der Idee des »Künstlers im Amt« festhielt und sich stärker auf Beeinflussung als auf schulmäßiges Dozieren verließ. So entschloss er sich, auch nach der Übersiedlung nach Dessau, als unbezahltes Mitglied am Bauhaus zu bleiben. Der Unterricht am Bauhaus tendierte jedoch ganz allmählich in die entgegengesetzte Richtung, in die Richtung von Klassen und Fächern.

An diesen unterschiedlichen Lehransätzen sieht man am besten, wie richtig Gropius' Plan von Anfang an gewesen war, wenn er auf der totalen Persönlichkeit seiner Mitarbeiter aufbaute, statt sich viel um ihre künstlerischen Privatansichten zu kümmern. Unter diesem Gesichtspunkt ist es interessant, dass gerade Itten es war, der am besten ausgebildete und erfahrenste Lehrer am Bauhaus, der sich am allerwenigsten dieser Gemeinschaftsidee unterordnen konnte und als erster das Bauhaus verließ.

1922 bis 1924 waren entscheidende Jahre für das Bauhaus. Die große Bauhaus-Ausstellung von 1923 wurde 1922 beschlossen. Das geschah auf Grund der starken Kritik von außen, und es kam hinzu, dass Gropius selbst von der Richtigkeit dieses Schrittes überzeugt war, gegen die Meinung der Lehrer und Studenten, die glaubten, eine solche Zurschaustellung in der Öffentlichkeit sei vorzeitig und könne daher die gesamte Ausbildungskonzeption gefährden. Gropius konnte jedoch den Lehrkörper davon überzeugen, dass ohne dieses Zugeständnis die Tage der Schule gezählt seien. Die Ausstellung, heute ein Markstein in der Geschichte der modernen Kunst, zeigte damals ganz klar, wie richtig die Bauhaus-Ziele waren. Obwohl sich bereits das Ende der Weimarer Zeit abzeichnete, stand ohne jeden Zweifel fest, dass das Bauhaus nicht nur für Deutschland, sondern für ganz Europa bedeutend war. Die Reaktion auf diese Ausstellung war überall in überwältigendem Maße positiv, mit Ausnahme von Seiten der konservativen Einheimischen. Die Aufforderung der Stadt Dessau, das Bauhaus solle dort ansässig werden, war eine unmittelbare Folge der Ausstellung.

Es überrascht keineswegs, dass sich gerade in dieser Zeit des intensiven Bemühens die Ideologie herauszukristallisieren begann. Die Zeit des bloßen Experimentierens war vorbei. Von nun an erschien es wesentlich, dass gewinnbringende Arbeit produziert wurde; dies konnte nur in Zusammenarbeit mit der Industrie erreicht werden. Einem Teil der Bauhäusler widerstrebte diese neue Linie durchaus, doch die Mehrheit der Lehrer und Studenten war damit einverstanden, teils weil sie nicht daran vorbeikamen, teils weil sie ihnen ganz erstrebenswert erschien. Zwei Wege begannen sich abzuzeichnen: es konzentrierten sich seither die Klassen einmal auf Standard-Design für die industrielle Fertigung – die Klasse für Architektur richtete von nun an Kurse in Mathematik, Physik, Statik, Grafik usw. ein und ersetzte das bisherige private Baubüro – zum anderen fanden die Ziele der Künstler stärker Anerkennung. Klee und Kandinsky richteten regelmäßige Kurse ein; sie wurden für alle Studenten am Bauhaus obligatorisch. Darüber hinaus bot man freie Malklassen dieser beiden Lehrer an. Wenn auf diesem Wege die Anhänger beider Richtungen am Bauhaus Gewinne erzielten, so geschah dies auf Kosten einer Schwächung des Einheitsprinzips, nach welchem versucht werden sollte, durch das Erforschen der Beziehungen zwischen den einzelnen Disziplinen eine große einheitliche Linie zu erreichen, wo alle Design-Probleme nur formaler Art waren und wo die finale Form eines Stuhles zum Beispiel (im oben erwähnten Morgensternschen Sinne) das Ergebnis eines Prozesses sein konnte, der sich nicht wesentlich von der Schaffung eines Gemäldes oder einer Skulptur unterschied.

Die ursprüngliche Unschuld und Freude an Entdeckungen war vorbei; das Bauhaus wurde »erwachsen«. Es gewann ganz beachtlich an Profil. Durch den Umzug nach Dessau 1925 gingen einige weg und machten anderes; fünf ehemalige Studenten wurden Meister. Sie sollten für das Bauhaus bedeutende Lehrer werden. Es waren Josef Albers, Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer, Hinnerk Scheper und Joost Schmidt. Von den ersten drei Lehrern ging nur Feininger als »Künstler im Amt« mit nach Dessau; so wurden fast alle Meisterstellen mit neuen Lehrern besetzt. Auch die Lehrfächer änderten sich. Die Werkstätten für Steinmetzerei, Keramik und Glasbearbeitung wurden aufgelöst; aus der ehemaligen Druckereiwerkstatt und der Buchbinderei wurde eine Klasse für typographische Druckerei, in der auch Grundzüge der Werbung – in Zusammenarbeit mit einem Werkmeister – gelehrt wurden, anfänglich unter Herbert Bayer, später unter Joost Schmidt. Die Bühnenklasse war anfänglich ein etwas schwer zu definierendes Gebilde gewesen; in Dessau wurde »Theater« festes Lehrfach, und bekam eine experimentelle Bühnenwerkstatt, deren Leitung Oskar Schlemmer übernahm.

Die Aufforderung, nach Dessau zu kommen, und die Errichtung des prachtvollen Gebäudekomplexes für das Bauhaus verdankte man dem weitvorausschauenden und liberalen Stadtrat unter der progressiven Führung von Oberbürgermeister Fritz Hesse. Nachdem das Bauhaus in Dessau in siebenjähriger Aufbauarbeit – 1925 bis 1928 unter der Leitung von Gropius, 1928 bis 1930 unter Hannes Meyer und 1930 bis 1932 unter Mies van der Rohe – nun seiner Vollendung entgegensah, zerbrach es wie so viele andere Einrichtungen am NaziRegime. Zum Schluss wurde das Bauhaus von Rechts- wie von Linksextremisten attackiert.

Als das Gebäude im Dezember 1926 offiziell eingeweiht wurde, hatte das Bauhaus eine vielversprechende Zukunft vor sich. Die Bauhäusler glaubten zu Recht, sie hätten den Nachweis für ihre Existenzberechtigung erbracht.
Die Bevölkerung von Sachsen-Anhalt arbeitete vorwiegend in der Industrie, nicht in der Landwirtschaft, sie war aufgeschlossen, nicht rückschrittlich. Der Geist und die Hallen der großherzoglichen Akademie gehörten endgültig der Vergangenheit an. Zwei Jahre zuvor war die unruhige Zeit der Inflation zu Ende gegangen; die Stabilisierung der deutschen Währung brachte eine Zeit voller Optimismus und günstiger Prognosen für die Wirtschaft.

Von diesem Zeitpunkt an kann ich aus persönlicher Erfahrung vom Unterricht am Bauhaus berichten. Alle Lehrer gingen von der Idee aus, dass die Studenten Selbstdisziplin zu üben hatten, und sie verzichteten darauf, Aufgaben unter Zwang ausführen zu lassen. Es wurden Ideen ausgeworfen, und wenn sich ein Student entschloss, an einer dieser Ideen weiterzuarbeiten, war es gut; wenn er nicht wollte, wurde nicht darauf bestanden. Es wurden keine Grade verliehen, es gab weder Prüfungen noch Zensuren. Von Zeit zu Zeit überprüften die Form- und Werkmeister die Arbeit der Studenten in den Werkstätten, und in kritischen Fällen wurden sie ermahnt; wenn einer überhaupt nichts zustande brachte, konnte es vorkommen, dass er aufgefordert wurde, die Schule zu verlassen. Kein Zweifel, es gab auch die Möglichkeit, in einer ganzen Reihe von Klassen am Unterricht teilzunehmen, ohne auch nur das Geringste zu lernen. Das war am Bauhaus auch nicht anders als in einer herkömmlichen Schule; ein Teil der Studenten ging ab, und weil keine akademischen Titel verliehen wurden, bin ich ganz sicher, dass das Bauhaus weniger unfähige Absolventen hatte als jede andere Hochschule. Das ist im Wesentlichen auf die hohen Anforderungen zurückzuführen, die an die große Zahl von Bewerbern um einen Studienplatz gestellt wurden. Lediglich in den letzten Jahren wurden die Aufnahmebedingungen etwas weniger streng gehandhabt. Zur Zeit als Hannes Meyer das Bauhaus leitete, wurde zum ersten Mal parteipolitische Aktivität geduldet, deren zersetzende Wirkung, die damals einsetzte, den Auflösungsprozess beschleunigt hat, nachdem Gropius von seinem Posten zurückgetreten war.

Der Vorkurs von Josef Albers zeigte am deutlichsten die Charakteristik der Kurse am Bauhaus. Die Idee eines Probesemesters, nach dessen Abschluss die Aufnahme in eine der Werkstätten erfolgen sollte und nach dem man auch recht zuverlässig sagen konnte, ob diese Schule für den Absolventen überhaupt geeignet sei oder nicht, war aus den Jahren in Weimar übernommen worden, als Itten und Georg Muche nach dieser Methode auswählten. Albers änderte aber die Konzeption dieses Kurses so stark, dass außer dem Namen aus dieser Zeit nichts mehr übrigblieb. Wichtig schien ihm, dass mit vielerlei Materialien, vornehmlich mit Holz, Papier und Metall, Gestaltungsversuche gemacht wurden. Die spezifischen Eigenheiten der einzelnen Materialien konnte man am besten begreifen lernen, wenn man sie auseinandernahm und wieder zusammenfügte, mit einem Minimum an Materialverschwendung und Werkzeugaufwand. Beim Zusammenfügen der Einzelteile konnte man die Bestandteile des entsprechenden Materials am besten erforschen; Metall z.B. kann man biegen, Holz dagegen nicht, es sei denn unter erheblichem Aufwand; Metall muss geschnitten werden, Papier kann man reißen usw. Bevorzugt waren Materialien aus dem Alltagsgebrauch, die normalerweise weggeworfen werden; ich entsinne mich an ein höchst eindrucksvolles Gebilde, das aus nichts anderem als Sicherheitsrasierklingen (vom Hersteller gekerbt und mit Löchern versehen) und abgebrannten Streichhölzern zusammengesetzt war.
Das erstaunlichste an solcher Art von Arbeit ist die Tatsache, dass sie im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes nicht »gelehrt« wurde. Sehr viel von diesem »Geist« haben wir auch in Oskar Schlemmers Vorträgen gemerkt; Ideen wurden vorgeschlagen, und manches im Verborgenen blühende Talent wurde so angesprochen; auf diese Weise erzielte man ganz erstaunliche Resultate. Aber man spürte auch die ungeheure Überzeugungskraft, die von Albers ausging, Freude an allem, was er tat, auch eine gewisse Ehrfurcht, mit der selbst verunglückte Arbeiten diskutiert wurden, um den Studenten ihre Arbeiten stärker bewusst zu machen. Zu meinen ersten Eindrücken über Albers' Vorkurs gehört die Einführung einer StaplerDrahtheftmaschine, die damals längst nicht so bekannt war wie heute; er führte mit großer innerer Befriedigung ihre vielfältigen Variationsmöglichkeiten vor und schloss auch gleich noch einen Vortrag über die amerikanische Herkunft dieser Maschine an. Ich erinnere mich auch an eine Führung durch eine Pappkartonfabrik, die wir machten; ich gestehe, es war bedrückend für mich, und er erläuterte mit einer solchen geradezu religiösen Hingabe gute und schlechte (das heißt verbesserungsfähige) Einzelheiten der Herstellung, wie man sie bestenfalls von einem Führer durch den Louvre erwartet hätte. Die Kriterien, nach denen die Arbeiten bewertet wurden, waren: strukturelle Erfindung und statische sowie Druck- und Zugkraft. Ästhetischen Wert strebte man nicht an, ja, Ästhetik als Ausgangspunkt wurde abgelehnt.

Gerade das Nichtvorhandensein eines bestimmten »Verwendungszweckes« bei diesen Übungen stärkte das Gefühl der »Funktion«: ein weiteres Paradoxon! Funktion hieß, das Kunstwerk sollte so weitgehend wie möglich aus Holz, Metall oder Papier bestehen, sozusagen aus Super-Papier, -Holz usw. Diese Dinge sind heutzutage fast Allgemeingut geworden, sie waren es nicht vor 30 Jahren. Sie wurden überhaupt nicht als abgeschlossene Kunstwerke angesehen, sondern sie dienten dazu, die Fähigkeiten der Studenten in Bezug auf die erwählte Werkstatt zu erforschen.

Dabei werden in mir Erinnerungen geweckt an die Begegnung mit einem Künstler, dessen Werke aus der Nach-Bauhaus-Zeit in den Vereinigten Staaten wahrscheinlich bekannter sind als die jedes anderen Lehrers am Bauhaus, und zwar einmal durch seine Lehrtätigkeit am Black Mountain College und seit 1950 an der Universität von Yale, zum zweiten durch seine Ausstellungen. Ich habe öfters gehört, dass Albers ein Anti-Intellektueller sei, doch ich glaube, dass der geistige Hintergrund dessen, was er »gesunden Menschenverstand« nennt, einen tieferen Sinn hat. Er verherrlicht nicht so sehr den ›Unintellektuellen‹, als dass er dem Nur-Intellektuellen seine Einseitigkeit vorwirft. Er will die verborgenen Talente in den Studenten wecken; seine Ziele gehören tatsächlich in den Bereich der Psychologie, obwohl seine Lehre sehr nüchtern und praxisbezogen ist oder dies zu sein vorgibt. Seine Lehrmethode, die anfänglich auf geduldigen Überzeugungsversuchen beruhte, wurde in späteren Jahren dadurch vermehrt, dass er seine Zuhörer in die Erkenntnis der Vorexistenz aller formalen, logischen Beziehungen zu schockieren versucht. Er sieht keinen Grund, die Kontrolle über das Artefakt aufzugeben, denn er unterscheidet zwischen »Kunst als Produkt« und der »Fähigkeit zum Malen«. Er hat einmal über sich gesagt: »Ich glaube, in der Kunst ist das Denken genauso nützlich wie sonst wo, und ein klarer Kopf ist kein Hindernis für reine Gefühle.«

Man könnte sagen, dass Albers mit seiner Lehre versucht hat, die höchste Stufe »nützlicher Nutzlosigkeit« zu erreichen: er strebte im wahrsten Sinne nach einem echten Symbol (welches wirkt), nach einem Instrument des geistigen Verstehens, nach etwas Notwendigem für Maler wie für Lehrer, Architekten und Designer.
Ich möchte behaupten, dass neben der unerlässlichen Genauigkeit bei der geometrischen Exploration auch das Spiel mit der einfachen geometrischen Form einen sehr wesentlichen Faktor darstellt. Dieses Spiel kann auf wunderbare Weise symbolhaft werden, wenn es zum Überdenken repressiver Philosophen des 19. Jahrhunderts, des Utilitarismus zum Beispiel, anregt, einer Philosophie, die das Spiel ächtete (wie die Schweren Zeiten von Dickens). Heute hat man erkannt, ist das Bedürfnis zum Spielen fast oder sogar ganz auf tödlichem Ernst begründet, und das keineswegs nur bei der Jugend, obwohl man diesen tödlichen Ernst vielleicht am besten begreift, wenn man mit der Jugend spielt. Man sieht sich plötzlich einem Archetyp gegenüber.

Vom Ursprung her ist Spiel symbolhaft, und das Symbol lässt das Spiel bewusst werden. Dabei kann man auch leiten: Kinder leiten wir zum Beispiel, doch die Erwachsenen lernen leicht, wie sie ihr eigenes Spiel am besten selbst leiten können; und wenn sie begabt sind (und diese Art von Erfahrung setzt eigentlich Begabung voraus, wenn sie bis ins Erwachsenenalter reichen soll), dann lernen sie, Zeichen der Annäherung. an die verborgenen Schätze des Verstehens zu erkennen (eine Erweiterung des Bewusstseins). Hat man diese Zeichen einmal erkannt, dann ersetzt zielgerichtete Arbeit das Spiel. Es genügt also nicht, dass diese Schätze zutage gefördert werden, sie müssen klug eingesetzt werden. Nur wenn beides zusammenkommt, verlässt man die Stufe der Infantilität.
Paul Klee sagt das gleiche in seiner hoch spezialisierten Sprache, und seine Kunst zeigt das Leben, das er aus dieser einen, der einzigen Quelle schöpft: Des Menschen vergängliche Hülle wurzelt im Kosmos, seine unsterbliche Seele mit all den Empfindungen im Körper, der geboren wird und der stirbt.

Am Ende des propädeutischen Semesters wurden die Arbeiten aller Studenten ausgestellt, und jeder wählte seine Werkstatt; anschließend trat der Meister-Rat unter der Leitung von Gropius zusammen, bewertete die Leistung und entschied, ob der vom Studenten gewünschten Studienrichtung zugestimmt werden könne. Ich rutschte gerade noch durch; die Meister ermahnten mich, ich solle mich mehr mit den Studienfächern befassen, und ließen mich zur Bühnenwerkstatt zu.

Ich hatte diese gewählt, weil ich in atemloser Aufregung, voller Bewunderung und tiefen Erstaunens eine Abendvorstellung der Theaterklasse im Bauhaus-Theater miterlebt hatte. In früher Jugend hatte ich schon aus den verschiedensten Materialien Masken geformt, und ich kann nicht sagen, warum, aber ich hatte das dunkle Gefühl, dass diese Tätigkeit tiefere Bedeutung für mich haben wurde. Dieses Gefühl schien am Bauhaus-Theater Leben und Gestalt anzunehmen. Ich hatte den »Gestentanz« und den »Formentanz« gesehen, den Tänzer mit Metallmasken und in wattierten, plastikartig anmutenden Kostümen vorführten. Die Bühne hatte einen pechschwarzen Hintergrund und ebensolche Kulissen, war von magischen Spotlights erhellt, die Requisiten hatten streng geometrische Formen: einen Kubus, eine weiße Kugel, Treppenstufen; die Schauspieler kamen, gingen mit großen Schritten, schlichen, trabten, jagten dahin, hielten kurz inne, wandten sich langsam und majestätisch ab; es waren Arme in farbigen Handschuhen zu sehen, die lockende Bewegungen ausführten; die Köpfe aus Kupfer, Gold und Silber gingen zusammen und flogen auseinander (die Masken reichten rundherum, sie bedeckten den ganzen Kopf und sahen in Form und Gestalt alle gleich aus – abgesehen von der Farbe der Metallfolie, mit der sie umhüllt waren); ein schwirrendes Geräusch, das in einem dumpfen Schlag endete, unterbrach die Stille; ein Crescendo von dröhnendem Lärm fand seinen Höhepunkt in einem niederschmetternden Schlag, dann unheilverkündende, bange Stille.
Eine andere Phase des Tanzes zeigte alle äußeren und Lautmerkmale eines Katzenchors, bis hin zu den jaulenden und tiefgezogenen Tönen, die die widerhallenden, maskierten Köpfe glänzend untermalten. Schritte und Gesten, Form und Inhalt, Farbe und Ton, alles war elementar, zeigte auf neue Art die Problematik von Schlemmers Theaterkonzeption: Der Mensch im Raum. Das, was wir gesehen hatten, sollte uns die Bühnenelemente erklären, ein Vorhaben, das durch die Arbeit in den folgenden Jahren immer weiter ergänzt wurde. Die Bühnenelemente wurden zusammengestellt, kombiniert, modifiziert, und so wurden sie ganz allmählich zu einer Art »Theaterstück«; wir haben nie herausgefunden, ob es eine Komödie oder eine Tragödie werden würde, weil der Fortlauf durch Veränderungen in der Theaterklasse jäh unterbrochen wurde. Interessant daran war folgendes: Nachdem sich die Studenten der Bühnenklasse auf die zu verwendenden Bühnenelemente geeinigt hatten und so eine gemeinsame formelle Basis geschaffen war, sollte durch Zutaten der einzelnen Mitspieler das aus Einzelteilen zusammengesetzte Stück schließlich auch noch als Ganzes eine Bedeutung und einen Sinn haben oder eine Botschaft vermitteln; Gesten und Laute sollten zu Worten und Handlungen werden. Wer weiß? Das Bauhaus-Theater war im Wesentlichen ein Theater für Tanz und als solches eine Art Selbstverwirklichung der geistigen Schöpfung von Oskar Schlemmer; es war aber auch eine Klasse, eine Stätte des Lernens, und dieses wundervolle Gebilde war Schlemmers Lehrwerkzeug.

Von Zeit zu Zeit wurden Sketches und andere Stücke vor der Öffentlichkeit oder vor dem Bauhaus-Publikum aufgeführt. Es ist schwer, mit wenig Worten die dauernd sich wandelnde Truppe zu charakterisieren; das Bauhaus-Theater bildete seine Schüler nicht in Ballett oder in Choreographie aus, aber es zog Schüler heran, die Ideen hatten und Interesse auf diesem Gebiet, und es bot ihnen die Gelegenheit, ihre Begabung für ein großes Werk zur Verfügung zu stellen. Einige der besten Tänzer nahmen freiwillig am Unterricht teil und durchliefen eigentlich eine ganz andere Klasse am Bauhaus (zum Beispiel Walter Kaminsky, Lou Scheper oder Werner Siedhoff). Für große Aufführungen konnte Schlemmer eine eindrucksvolle Anzahl von Mitwirkenden aufbieten (auf Grund von Einladungen veranstaltete das BauhausTheater Ende der zwanziger Jahre in vielen großen Theatern in ganz Deutschland Aufführungen), während sich die Arbeit in der zahlenmäßig kleinen Bühnenklasse beschränkte auf Entwurf, Herstellung und Pflege von Masken, Kostümen und Requisiten sowie auf Planung, Leitung und Koordinierung zukünftiger choreographischer Entwicklungsmöglichkeiten, Sketches und Ideen; letzteres wurde in einem Rat diskutiert, dessen Vorsitz Schlemmer führte.
Starke Selbstverleugnung prägte Schlemmers Lehrmethode. Mir, einem begeisterten und sehr jungen Bewunderer, schien es oft unverständlich, dass ein Mann, der so viel zu geben hatte wie er, sich so klaglos einer wirklich nicht immer sachverständigen Mehrheit beugte. Ich wünschte ihm, dass er sich mehr behauptete.

Es dauerte viele Jahre, bis ich endlich merkte, dass ihm dieser Weg verschlossen blieb und dass das in seiner Persönlichkeit begründet war – er hatte also in diesem Punkt keine Wahl. Überzeugung schwelte in seinem Inneren, er konnte aber keine Worte finden. Ich erinnere mich noch sehr gut an seinen Ausruf »Janein« in geistigen Stress-Situationen; dann konnten ihm jedenfalls nur Taten, lebhaft vorgebrachte Argumentationen, physische Äußerungen Erleichterung bringen. Und es war in solchen Fällen ein Hochgenuss, die Präzision, die selbstbewusste Haltung, die innere Kraft und das Feingefühl seines Auftrittes zu beobachten. Seine Sprache war, obwohl ihr der Befehl versagt war, ein starkes Ausdrucksmittel. Er verfügte über das individuellste Vokabular, das ich je gehört habe. Sein Erfindungsreichtum an Metaphern war unerschöpflich, er liebte ungewöhnliche Gegenüberstellungen, paradoxe Alliterationen, barocke Umschweifungen. Der satirische Humor in seinen Aufzeichnungen ist nicht in andere Sprachen übersetzbar.

Über die anderen Meister, die ich kannte, kann ich nur sehr spärlich Dinge berichten, die das Bild des Unterrichts am Bauhaus, das ich hier zu beschreiben versuche, abrunden würden. Vor Paul Klee und Wassily Kandinsky habe ich noch heute eine tiefe Ehrfurcht und empfinde eine innige persönliche Zuneigung zu ihnen; bei Moholy-Nagy erinnere ich mich an seine ansteckende Begeisterung und Freude am Experimentieren, doch vermisse ich in mir jenen Widerhall, der mir so charakteristisch für die Atmosphäre am Bauhaus scheint, die Wechselwirkung zwischen Lehrer und Schüler. In einem Beitrag für die Festschrift zum 70. Geburtstag von Oskar Schlemmer (privat veröffentlicht im September 1958 von Frau Tut Schlemmer in Stuttgart) schrieb ich, von Oskar Schlemmer habe ich nicht so sehr das Theaterhandwerk als das Lehren gelernt, und das gleiche würde ich auch von dem Verhältnis sagen, das ich zu Albers hatte. Ich muss einer der schlechtesten Studenten gewesen sein, die jemals seine Klasse besucht haben, jedenfalls unmittelbar an diesem Verhältnis gemessen. Ich glaube jedoch, dass er mein Bewusstsein unauslöschlich geprägt hat durch sein beharrliches Betonen der gestalterischen Grundelemente. Er und Schlemmer führten die Studenten zu geistiger Bewegungsfreiheit durch ihre ständigen Appelle an das allen Fakultäten Zugrundeliegende, Gemeinsame: an den Spieltrieb. Und Schlemmers Tänzer, in seinem Kostüm und mit seiner Maske, in seiner ursächlichen Beziehung zum gestalteten Raum, ist für mich eine ebenso fruchtbare Erfahrung wie die der grundlegenden geometrischen Formen von Albers. Durch ihren Umgang mit dem Symbol haben sie die Grenzen des Bewusstseins erweitert – sie haben das letzte Ziel des Lehrens erreicht.

Als ich selbst vor 19 Jahren Lehrer wurde, hatte ich mit den ersten Bauhäuslern eines gemeinsam: ich war auch Soldat gewesen. Alles andere war genau umgekehrt: ich war nicht ausgehungert, es hatte keine Revolution gegeben, ich »kämpfte« in einem Krieg, den wir gewonnen und nicht verloren haben. Die Bauhaus-Studenten von 1919 genossen zum ersten Mal in ihrem Leben die Freiheit in vollen Zügen, die Studenten in meinen ersten Übungen genossen so viele Freiheiten, dass sie gar nicht wussten, was sie damit anfangen sollten. In den ersten Interviews fiel mir eine Forderung besonders auf: es war die nach Disziplin. Und im Grunde ist es heute noch so: das Bedürfnis nach Ordnung in einem Chaos ist nicht sozialer, sondern geistiger Art. Heute befinden wir uns im Bereich der Kunst mitten in einer phantastisch anmutenden Revolution. Kunst, als letzte Zuflucht der Manifestation von »nutzlosen« Werten, in der Zeit eines tatsächlich allvernichtenden und entsetzlichen Materialismus, nicht vermindert dadurch, dass »65 Prozent der Bevölkerung in irgendwelcher Form kirchlich aktiv sind«, ist ursprünglich mysteriös, vergeistigt, romantisch, bedrohlich – vielleicht sogar zur Psychose geworden. Die letzten Versuche, objektiven Sinn aus ihren Verkörperungen zu ziehen, scheitern hoffnungslos an der Tatsache, dass Kunst zu einem Produkt von hohem Marktwert geworden ist.

Da ich Malerei, nicht Philosophie lehre, sehe ich in der reinen geometrischen Form den einzigen Weg, der uns aus diesem Dilemma befreien kann. Nach meiner Lehrmethode gehe ich vom Äußeren in die Tiefe; ich beginne mit dem Ausgangsstoff zum Malen – der Farbe, dem Farbstoff – und versuche dann, den Studenten das Erkennen von Abhängigkeiten zwischen Form und Farbe nahezubringen. Von dieser impressionistischen Entwicklungsstufe aus versuche ich dann, Farb-Gestaltung im Sinne der Malerei (Stillleben) aufzubauen; wir entdecken die Funktion des Lichts, zunächst als Mittler für die optische Formgebung. Wenn Licht (und Schatten) alle visuellen Möglichkeiten eines Kunstwerkes wiedergeben können, dann wird Farbe überflüssig. Wenn jedoch Farbe auf Grund ihrer Wesenheit (gefühlsmäßig und geistig) in der Malerei erwünscht ist – ein Ausdrucksmittel, das mit Licht und Schatten nichts zu tun hat –, dann verlangt die Konzeption des Bildes mehr und anderes als die Visualisierung von Oberflächen von Objekten. In diesem Stadium bereits ist der Student in seinem Innersten engagiert, und sein erwachender, schöpferischer Drang sucht begierig nach neuen Formen. Von diesem Punkt an sollte er frei sein, doch gerade an diesem Punkt beginnt die Freiheit eine schwere Bürde zu werden. »Müssen wir wirklich das tun, was wir tun wollen?« Wie schwer ist es, die Frage nach dem Sinn der Dinge nicht mehr zu stellen! Wie ungemein schwer, mit jener mephistophelischen Erkenntnis fertig zu werden:
Wie würde dich die Einsicht kränken wer kann was Dummes, wer was Kluges denken, das nicht die Vorwelt schon gedacht?

Da ich dieses grausame Stadium in meiner Jugend selbst erlebt, selbst durchlitten hatte, konnte ich wenig später selbst erkennen, dass das, was mir wiederfahren war, typisch für unsere Zeit ist. Zu jener Zeit war es auch, da sich mir die Bedeutung meines Studiums am Bauhaus offenbarte: Konstruktive Präzision in der äußeren Form führt unausweichlich zum Urgrund, aus dem alle schöpferische Erfindungskraft hervorgeht (ich möchte sie »geometrisch« nennen, weil ich kein besseres Wort dafür habe); nur müssen wir uns daran erinnern können, dass »das Messen der Erde« am Anfang der Menschheit eine unvergleichlich abenteuerlichere Unternehmung war, als sie das heute zum Beispiel sein würde. Für mich wurden damals geometrische Zusammenhänge zum Übermittler neuer Farbkompositionen – zumindest für eine gewisse Zeit. Und diese Erfahrung der geistigen Wiedergeburt versuche ich meinen Studenten zugänglich zu machen. Dabei braucht man immer wieder auf die symbolische Bedeutung solcher Abhängigkeiten hinzuweisen. Das Symbol lebt weiter, auch wenn wir es anfangs (und vielleicht für immer) nicht erkennen. Das einzig Nötige ist die Erfahrung, die man selbst gemacht haben muss. Zum Schluss noch eine letzte, das gleiche aussagende Formulierung. In einem Gedicht von Josef Albers fand ich die Zeilen:
Und so ist Kunst nicht Gegenstand, sondern Erlebnis.

T. Lux Feininger
1970/71, Cambridge, Massachusetts

© The Estate of T. Lux Feininger

Published here with kind permission of The Estate of T. Lux Feininger, Westport, MA

Diesen Text schrieb der Künstler als Beitrag zur Bauhaus-Textsammlung, die 1971 von Eckhard Neumann unter dem Titel "Bauhaus und Bauhäusler", für Hallag Bern, 1971, herausgegeben wurde. Überarbeitete Neuauflagen sind 2019 in deutsch und englisch erschienen:
Unser Bauhaus - Bauhäusler und Freunde erinnern sich, Hg. Magdalena Droste, Boris Friedewald, München 2019, Prestel Verlag, ISBN: 978-3-7913-8527-3; Our Bauhaus: memories of Bauhaus people, ed. Magdalena Droste, Boris Friedewald , London/New York 2019, ISBN: 3-7913-8528-3

T. Lux Feininger

The early years of the two painters were, in one sense, as contrasting as can be. My father, Lyonel Feininger, grew up in surroundings in which his bent was not encouraged – if one may be so bold as to assume that even in his boyhood, the constructive learnings which he evinced and which manifested themselves in the design and construction of railroad trains and sailing yacht models, pointed toward a visual rather than the musical mode of expressions for which he was being trained. I, on the other hand, was surrounded by an atmospere altogether friendly to whatever development my maturer years might bring. Yet, the aura of prohibition, which we feel prevailed in the elder Feininger’s youth, was never seen as destructive by the artist in his later life, and we, who have not known Mr. Karl Feininger, must beware of making too much of his eargerness to see his only son become a violinist. Perhaps it is just to advance this much: The habit of discipline was imprinted upon my father early in life and stood by him ever after; whilst in my own youth, it was largely absent, and subsequent years of trouble brought about a need for seeking that discipline within myself. Out of contrast and similarity, I draw this conclusion: both painters received strong impressions in youth, from their respective fathers.


It is part of my philosophy to be a believer in resistance. I cannot get away from the conviction that in any human endeavor the ability to overcome obstacles is a vital proof of the validity of the endeavor. Nothing would be easier than to misconstrue this belief, and to assume that therefore obstacles must be provided. No, but they will arise; and I distinguish between the ordinary and the extraordinary effort of endeavor: I believe in democracy to the extent of insisting on good citizenship. The work of art, however, is, and remains in my estimation, the unusual, above-normal, and exceptional achievement, and if I cannot see my way to creating artificial obstacles for the purpose of proving it, I cannot see either, that society owes a debt to promissory notes emitted by young people who have not had time to explore the degree of their unusualness.
The core of the work of art escapes evaluation on rational levels. Unfashionable as the approach may be, I seek for the masterpiece, because nothing else will do.


But if I am a painter, I am also an educator; and having estabished for myself very exacting standards, I am able to distinguish between demands I make on myself, and on others; and I am learning not to ask others to attempt what I cannot achieve myself. Thus, while I am slow to admit exceptional merit in a student’s work, I am eager to help in the pursuit of some unusualness in a young person’s life; and this the teaching of art at college level does offer. Regardless of final results, the effort is eminently worth making, and at Harvard I have an opportunity of fitting practical studies in drawing and painting into a framework of liberal arts education with the peculiarly humanistic flavor of the University. Seen from this angle, it will be understandable that I can say that neither was the suppression in my father’s early days quite the evil that the over-eager progressives might see it (witness the results) nor was the permissiveness of my youth an unmixed blessing.


A discussion of the background of Lyonel Feininger’s paintings demands mention of his early days as an illustrator and cartoonist. My father always insisted on the inestimable value which the ten years or so of his purely drawing period had for him. Working in the graphic media of line cuts and lithograph to the specifications of dimension, subject matter (all too often some nauseating “punch line”), and time, provided exactly that kind of obstacle course in which an inferior talent might exhaust itself. My father, however, drew strength from it. Not only the inventions of designs compositionally strong and effective, but the study of a million aspects of reality – to be drawn only from Nature – seems to have inspired him with an almost ecstatic fervor. Effects of light, the textural values of the city landscape in cobblestone pavement, towering brick walls, the waves of the canals intersecting the city of Berlin where he worked for the greater part of this period; the construction of mechanical devices, notably ships, sail and steam, railroads, bicycles quite particularly; the effects of costume on the human figure; the physiognomic structure of faces – the papers he worked for were all more or less political in policy and wreaked weekly havoc on members of the Reichstag, of the cabinet and, above all, the Military – all this called for end drawings which seems (in retrospect) to have been done as one might say, at a canter. If the material were not almost totally unavailable today, a study of portraiture alone, necessary to persiflage and caricature hundreds of statesmen and public figures of Germany, France, England, Russia, Japan, America, Italy, Austria, together with their uniforms ad insignia, orders and decorations, whiskers, helmets, plumed hats, liveries of flunkies, carriages and horses, palaces and mistresses, would provide a theme for a book. But all this rich subject matter would be insignificant without the compositional arrangement of each full or half page, the design of black and white, with inexhaustible resources of textural grays, almost invariably prepared for the engraver by the artist himself, for black and white or color lithography. One of the papers my father worked for had 4-color reproduction, and a very considerable formal knowledge of composition was accumulated through making the color separations submitted with the completed art work at press time.


Intimately connected with this background is the life-long habit of the rapid pencil sketch, “thumbnail sketch” as Lyonel Feininger called it. From his earliest days through the 1930’s, a vast storehouse of nature studIes was built up, from which the artist drew until the time of his death. His method of composing consisted of the re-castig and re-drawing of a given composition, abandoning it and then taking it up again a day or a year or twenty-five years after, in any and all of the media: charcoal, pen and ink, pen and wash, watercolor, oil; to which may be added, for a period ranging from the beginning of the first World War to the early 20’s, the medium of the woodblock print. I heard my father say that the initial nature transcription of the first sketch must be re-worked “so that its own mother would not recognize it”. In other words, compositional considerations prevail throughout. One of the key words to his approach, his attitude towards nature-art relations, was “translation”. The terms of nature had to be translated into the language of the artist’s own lifelong making.


This language was still being evolved until the morning of his death in the 85th year, a sign of the fantastic vitality of this work. Considering Lyonel Feininger’s enormous inventiveness and sensitivity to color, it surely was interesting to hear him state, regarding his own work, that form, rather than color, had been determinant in his approach. That is to say, form was what he was striving for; his knowledge of color was one of his tools. Analogous to this, I believe, was the relative unimportance that representation of objects, as such, had for him from the beginning. Knowing that he could draw and render with photographic accuracy, the representations of objects in terms of impressionistic light and shade, was no challenge to him. His early ideal of painting, before he set brush to canvas himself, was a distinctly two-dimensional organization of the picture space; he expressed it in his admiration for certain images he saw in a shooting gallery, I forget whether in Germany or France. “Schiessbuden-Bilder” he wanted to paint – a statement sometimes misquoted.


Concerning the main aspect of his visual terms – the geometrical plane – Lyonel Feininger did not consider himself indebted to the cubists at all. The designation of cubist was loosely, and as we now know, sloppily, applied in German contemporary criticism of the first twenty-five years of the century. Indeed, the first indications of his won sign language appeared before the formulation of the cubist ideals in Paris. I should rather incline to the idea of a parallel development – in some principal features, such as the interpenetration of crystalline forms in invertible perspective, strikingly alike – with different aims. Lyonel Feiningers’s aim was a deeper, more searching, presentation of landscape, figure and architecture than the conventional means of linear and atmospheric perspective offered; but he was never interested in breaking up form. His forms are not broken up; they are, rather, built up. What we see, to continue the metaphor, are the joints of component parts; not fracture lines of a cracking structure. The geometrical plane, for the most part rectilinear, although there are important compositions in circular and spiralling forms, whether pure or derived, is the unifying factor in his compositions; carrier of formal and color ideas both.


The building up of form – his lifetime preoccupation – goes hand in hand with the building up of the paint surface on the canvas. Quality of the highest order is expressed in the handling of pigments; an enamel-like, completely spiritual structure is the result of countless glazes and superimpositions of thin layers of paint. This paint, by the way, remained the traditional oil color throughout his life; he did not work either in casein nor the new polymer media. In presently available colors, he deplored the disappearance from the market of a lean type of oil color, such as the pre-war German “Behrend” colors; these were ground into a rosin-oil compound and were faster drying than contemporary makes, which he considered over-fat. Likewise, I have often heard him attribute the particular beauty of the paint film of the 1920s to a “fig-milk” painting medium, now no longer available.


Form and technical invention alike are based on an inexhaustible store of experience; I heard my father advise a young sculpture student many years ago to begin to form what he called a “treasury” of formal acquaintance. She was advised to concern herself with the study of nature, which in her case meant anatomy: hands and feet, as belonging to arms and legs – the magnificent relationships of drapery as conditioned by the more splendid body underneath. To Lyonel Feininger it was unthinkable that this wealth of form should be abandoned voluntarily for the benefit to “styliation” before it was known and had been experienced. And this was his advice throughout his life: Know what you are distorting! Know also why you are doing it! Before you can discard perspective, know what you are discarding! And he always practised what he did not, really, preach (for he was the least given to forcing himself upon others). Such curtailment of natural form as is to be found in his works, whatever simplifications, abbreviations, translations into two-dimensional terms is always organic, and always based on an awareness of what lies underneath. But, in common with his great contemporaries of the German school – Klee, Kandinsky, Schlemmer – Lyonel Feininger held that concern with the superficialities of existence, the surface values, cannot be a goal for the artist.
Thus, if there is to be a classification, expression, rather than impression, would be the term. But that expression stipulates an austere kind of responsibility towards the world we live in. And the first demand of this attitude is, to know the world and its thousand forms. A more intellectual person than my father would necessarily add to this, in emendation, that this world to be known includes the inner world of the artist – that self which is realizing itself whether the ego-consciousness is cognizant of the process or not.


Formal and technical experience, fed by memory, are superimposed, if I may so so, upon deeper strata of memory; certainly, dating back to early childhood, and quite probably beyond, although this ought to be forbidden ground when speaking of anyone but oneself. There was, in Lyonel Feininger, a profound deep loyalty to the world he had known best, which is the world before the two World Wars. This world also happened to be a world very recently emerged from another war and in Lyonel Feininger’s parentage the two warring brothers are curiously united. The father, lately a soldier in the Confederate Army, married the daughter of a Union Captain. Since Lyonel Feiniger was born and grew up in New York, it is permissible to say that he awoke to consciouness in a society greatly relieved by the restoration of peace, and optimistic for the future. Had his childhood been spent in the South, certain complexities of his father’s nature might have become more intelligible to him at an earlier date; but this is an idle speculation. Lyonel Feiningers’s personal experiences of the South were confined to a visit to his grandparents, then living in Columbia, S.C., where they had moved after the destrucion of Charleston. My father was a lad of perhaps nine (1880) but the experience had impressed itself very deeply upon his memory, and I have heard very frequent accounts of the journey. Family matters were, in these tales, always touched upon with the greatest forebearance (for which, it seems, there was some need), but the theme which recurred with the greatest clarity was of a visual, and I should like to say, symbolic nature (and it shall remain unstated whether may father’s or my own impressionability were more engaged in this souvenir); the remembered image of dark figures silhouetted against the sky, with a sheet of calm water reflecting their feet. Investigation of this phenomenon reveals the fact that these figures were some idle negroes, fishing in a canal; but it does not require too bold a flight of fancy to see the relationship in the recurrence of the theme of enigmatic figures (with details suppressed) standing on a bank with fishing poles in their hands, silhouetted against the sky.


This is the most typical of all of Lyonel Feiningers motiFs, his love for architecture notwithstanding. The elements are: the low shore, the wide expanse of water, the sky above, and the silhouetted shape whether ship or figure. The memories of ocean beaches, in various parts of the world, with the sailing ship traffic of pre-World War I days unfolding endlessly on the horizon had the most singularly determining effect on Feininger’s world, particularly when it is known that the ships were studied and drawn through a telescope. The telescope, with its peculiar optical lens system, had a greatly flattening effect on what is lightly referred to as “perspective”. Vanishing lines all but disappear, when an object, not vast in itself, is looked at in magnification across an intermediate space of several miles. Dimensions being rendered more truly accurate in proportion (although to the untrained eye they would appear as distorted), the foundation is laid to seeing the distant landscape in its absolute, rather than relative values; to bring this about, in painting, inversion of perspective is resorted to. This, clumsily speaking, would take the form of representing the distant end of, let’s say, a railroad train, as of the same dimension as the near end; and the immediate purpose is to free the eye beholding the representation from associative material. In this kind of perspective, in itself, there is nothing revolutionary or cubistic; it has been the mode of representing space in Oriental art since early times, not to speak of Egyptian painting. Important, however, is the addition that our intellect is aware of space being an entity in which time also has its being. In Oriental as well as in European medieval painting, occasionally one finds various scenes represented in one and the same composition, which anecdotally, took place at different times. The arrangement of these scenes in the respective artists’ composition, has always been strictly in accorandance with an array in space. Whether or not in Lyonel Feininger’s gradual evolving of his own set of perspective values there was consciousness of these things, it is not for me to say. I am, however, persuaded that his pursuit of these laws is essentially related to the visual solutions found by the ardent hunters of the absolute in the times of truly great, i.e. of conceptual, painting.


From the inversion of a purely linear set of “vanishing lines” to the double reading of all form – from the outside in, as well as from the inside out – is but a step. This, I believe, is the raison d’etre of Feininger’s predilection for crystalline solids in his translation of nature terms. It was his means, very specifically, to liberate the eye of the beholder from associative material, to interpret the whole of the world in unified terms; and the unification took the shape of spiritualizing matter, not so much through color as through color relations. That which is refined away is the gross substance of wood, earth, stone, and the slightly less gross flesh, blood, air and water. The touch of the hand, the sensing organ of tactility, is not invited to participate in the apperception of Feininger’s world. The vision is not to be possessed.


In a consideration of the works of Lyonel Feininer one should realize the range of the artist. The informed eye of the spectator, like the revolving beam of a light-house, is able to sweep through time in beholding the paintings, and to see various significant phases of the work more brightly illuminated than others, because more prominent.
One might begin with an example rather close in time to the ideal of the “shooting gallery picture”, with elements drawn from the cartooning period (“Rosa Strasse”). In the majestic “Lady in Mauve” the true theme is the formal array of shapes building up landscape and figure, with the apparent motif – still belonging to the pre-World War I era – greatly reduced in material importance. Invertible perspective is already the determining factor; there is a great purification of shapes in the direction of geometrical simplicity; and, most significant, there is transparancy of planes, although, perhaps, not as fully carried through as in the case in the classic “Village Church”. However, a simple enumeration of visual features will never begin to get at the magic and mystery of great paintings; and the “Lady in Mauve” is a very great painting in the oeuvre of Lyonel Feininger. It is a heroic work – the lady – occasionally the title of the painting is given as “L’Impatiente” – is a true heroine; I go so far as to see her as symbolic; the way a ship’s figurehead can be seen as symbolic. Considering the rarity of figure compositions in Lyonel Feininger’s work in which the figure dominates the landscape, I see in this main work something like the true femme inspiratrice, a presiding presence of near-divine dimensions. Her impatient pacing, one feels in the significant twist of the body away from the spectator, will immediately be followed by departure; already she is striding off – and her progress, one feels, will induce pursuit. The leader of the chase had led her follower through many strata of the world – there is, perhaps as much of Proserpina in her as there is of Diana. Or is she Eurydice? Surely the music which has often been invoked in the search for her has tamed the wild beasts of the forest. The music, first and last, has been that of J.S. Bach and 12 fugues for organ, composed in the 1920s. And with our ears still retaining the last strains of a spiritual and divine harmony, I turn to another world, in which the contrasting elements are somewhat differently arranged.


The music influencing my early days came with all the rush of a special message, but alas! its name was jazz. While I shall not dwell upon a recollection of these times, I will say that it was the early form of “Dixieland”, that the time was 1925, and my age was 15. The experience, such as it was, invited participation, and participate I did; the oath, sworn to myself upon first hearing the overwhelming chords, was duly observed. I swore that I should play in such a band myself, and this came about two years later, when I was a student at the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1927. Without being too aware of it, I have already stated a main distinguishing feature of my work, as compared to my father’s: I mean participation, I even mean possession. My greed to have and to hold, to possess, has led me again and again into byways from which I had to extricate myself with caution and cool thought, just because there was not enough of that integrated into my attitude. My wish, in my early painting days, was to reconstruct vanished times, and so far, as I was able to tell, the utmost reality only would suffice for this aim. It is unprofitable to get too deeply into this; I will only say that there was a fantastic difference between what I considered to be my aim, and what was achieved. However, it is perhaps useful to remember that 25 years – a quarter of a century – of painting is backing up the most recent products of my search.


In talking about my paintings, I find it useful to note that the advent of geometrical construction in my life began in early 1951. The outward circumstance responsible for this momentous occasion was the need to refresh my command of mechanical drawing for the purpose of teaching a course in Design. The inner cause was a vital need for order and thought, in approaches that had become too one-sidedly the tools for passion and wishful longing. The requirements of my design teaching were soon satisfied with the refresher course I taught myself in descriptive geometry. But the effect which this experience had on the life in the studio of the artist would be hard to exaggerate. It was as if dried-up streams were beginning to flow again. I can never forget it, and I have been so impressed with the virtue of visual geometrical creative work that I was induced to include it as a regular feature in the course in drawing and painting that I am now teaching.


In contrast to the expression of pictorial ideas through the chief means of color, the geometrical studies stress form, easily rendered through an elementary light-dark relationship. Transparency of overlapping planes calls merely for evenly laid water-color washes, in which hue is of minor importance, so long as it is uniform. A union of formal and coloristic expression is, of course, the goal; but so specific are the lessons to be learned from the essential relations of form that for long periods of time I have been glad to make this sacrifice of color. Indeed, I do not consider it a sacrifice; the limitation of emotional means was a stimulus. Perhaps it may be of interest to enter a little into a discussion of the problem of elementary geometrical relationships.


My studies originating in the need to refresh my acquaintance with mechanical drawing, it was natural that my first attempt dealt with the representation of three-dimensional objects. And nothing can exceed the fascination which experimentation with the study of such solids offers to the introspective mind. For whole weeks I labored at the solution of certain problems, which might have been easy with more advanced knowledge of solid geometry. But I refused to call in the aid of text books; I wanted every discovery to be my own: in a way, I was retracing a few hundred years of the history of civilization. A problem which occupied me particularly, was the composite cube: a cube, that is, or any other rectilinear prism, built up of alternating light and dark component cubes or miniatures of the composite shape. The drawing “Study of Sections” shows not only the effects of sections by means of sloping planes, but also embodies what I consider visual evidence or proof of the correctness of my construction. The sphere was another source of delight. In projecting certain spherical sections, I made for the first time in my life the personal experience of thought as a psychological function: an almost religious experience. However, visual merits of my studies by no means kept step with the intellectual gain. I found, after a while, that the specifically pictorial relations lay in the two-dimensional field; a statement one frequently finds in the trade literature. But not so frequently found is an intelligible analysis of the difference between two- and three-dimensional design, so long as is occurs on paper, or canvas, board, etc. Our time curiously given to re-examining old-established values. My geometrical work constitutes my bowing to the Zeitgeist. And as I believe that I have found something worth communicating, I will try to clarify what I mean by two-dimensional design relations.


The paper we draw on has, for practipal purposes, no third dimension, but extends in height and width only. A drawing of a cube, or of a man, sailing ship or whatever, aims at representing the missing dimension: by whatever means the artist chooses to employ, the feeling of roundness is created. A prime means is, of course, the rendering of light effects on the body. If the modelling produced by light effects is reduced, or cut out altogether, an approach to flatness begins; but even pure delineation appeals so strongly to the sense of the familiar that solidity is at least felt. With a departure, however, from what we usually associate with the idea of cube, man or ship, the appeal to memory lessons, and if a true transcription is found, i.e. if the artist has succeeded supplanting conventional form completely with his own signature, the appeal is non-existent, and the dimensions of the graph or design alone are beheld and have that unmistakable look of something new, something not previously seen.


The word “dimension” implies two things at the same time; when we speak of two or three dimensions, we usually mean height, width and depth. But when we speak of small, large, full or reduced, dimensions, we mean inches, feet or miles. Here again association is at work in the contemplations of art. We are accustomed to seeing the image of man, much reduced in a drawing, let us say, and even more so in the reproduction of a painting, a newspaper photograph. On the other hand, we are likewise accustomed to seeing man huge, enormous, on the screen of a movie theater. In neither case are we easily fooled into taking the image for reality. With primitives and animals, it is different and there are cases of dogs and even cats confronted with movies for scientific purposes that are quite carried away by their own associations. Accustomed as we are to variations of known dimension we may be fooled, or at least thus pretends the term used to describe this particular art-form, by “trompe-l’oeil” painting. The effect of the deception is largely based on the fact that the objects rendered are of actual or true dimensions. I mention “trompe-l’oeil” as an extreme case of the importance of r e l a t i v e dimension. The measurements are r e l a t e d to the object, postage stamp, dollar bill or broken wrapping paper, and the appeal is made through our recognition of the object. But geometrical form deals with a b s o l u t e dimensions only. Nobody can say whether my squares are enlarged, or reduced, or actual size. They are what they are. No appeal is made, because the forms are not man-made. I feel in the simple geometrical elements something timeless, something eternal. It is curious how simple the material can be with which images are created.


I found, then, that the truly two-dimensional forms were those not burdended with associative or memory material – a finding, made intellectually, and pleasantly resembling the finding made by Lyonel Feininger on his own proper, emotional-empirical basis. He cleared his world of substance, because it leads to greed of possession; I translated myself to spheres (pardon the pun!) where possession was impossible. In sacrificing the dimensions of depth (only for a while!) I found the larger possibilities of pure space. The superimpostion of two or more transparent planes produces indeed a feeling of space, but it is as absolute as the dimensions of the little square and triangles are, not reducible to a vanishing point, therefore not measurable. It is not even possible to determine which plane is “above” which other transparent plane. I say “above” or “below”, but one could just as well say “before” or “behind” – a difference of individual seeing. I say “above” because I feel that the look directly down at the ground under one’s feet is the truest two-dimensional projection of the world surrounding us, least troubled by “distance”. I thus assume that one is looking downward when seeing one of these geometrical designs. This may well be due to the fact of having looked down at my drawing board while constructing the design. But, in a broader sense, this looking down instead of ahead at vanishing horizons, has led met to look differently in an inner way; paradoxically, the narrowed angle of vision has broadened the understanding!


Two years or so of concentrating on geometrical studies has led me gradually back into a painted world of atmosphere and distances. The dealings I have had with two-dimensional proportions clarified my understanding of the visual means of composition. I repeat that the distinction between the two and three dimensions is one of absoluteness versus relativity; the relative aspect of distance in painting does not go without an admixture of make-believe, or illusion, or at least the intension of creating an illusion. No disparaging value is attached to the word. The illusions may have moral significance – after all, there are good moods as well as bad ones. But even the factors of mood and illusion, provocative of participation in the spectator, benefited from the abstract studies: In the “Cat at Island Heights” for instance, with its definite atmospheric intention of color, the composition is based on underlying forms of sky, water and mast of the boat which are in themselves quite abstract. Not that this collaboration of geometrical and illusionist forms is considered at all rare – only, previously I had been unaware of it, and now had learned the relationship. My own experciences showed me the meaning of a saying which I had often heard particularly from the lips of Lyonel Feininger: It is not the object that counts in painting, but the space.


Only the grossest kind of misunderstanding can perceive in such a finding an intention to do away with “subject matter”. In a mental process of the sort I underwent, one is confronted with the necessary, inevitable inner chemistry or alchemy building up the stage where the transition from perception to conception, or, from intake to output – call it what we will, is made: the intermediate stage where the work of art is born. As our temperaments differ, so also our ways of comprehension. We are not all destined to achieve the same degree of consciousness. The artist may be a mere tool under the control of a much larger power, obsessed by some kind of demon. Others may have been meant to achieve greater awareness of the inner processes, and such would refuse to listen to the inner voices at their peril.


In either case, and, if one looks really attentively at the creative process of the others, in all cases, one is led to the conclusion that the artist is both creator and creature. He does not describe himself in the work, but he needs all there is of himself in order to formulate the work. When the work is presented to the public eye, a similar reciprocal participation is called for on the side of the spectator. The effect of this may be called communication. The more I ponder this elusive problem, the more I marvel that it comes through as often as it does. If one happens to be an educator, one who is brought in contact with many individuals who are young, receptive and eager to respond, one is tempted to believe that all that really matters in painting is to establish and maintain communication with the inner self: but in that case, the existence of the art business becomes inexplicable.


I am referring – as perhaps I should not – to the contrast between Cambridge, Massachusetts where I live and teach, and New York City, where I lived for many years. In the latter city, I have had more than one talk with contemporaries, who, discussing the Bauhaus background of which I am part, expressed concern and even horror at the prospect presented by the Bauhaus ideals. As if they could ever be imposed upon an unwilling society. The curious part of the recollection is this, that the persons so concerned were themselves contributing their quota to the enormous confusion existing in the professional art world. Eight Street, New York, is the place where very wild-eyed ideas are brandished about; but, instead of being frightened, one ought to recall that ideas in themselves cannot overthrow anything, that they must be implemented – which takes thought, time and continuous effort. These latter qualities, where they exist, have (fortunately for us all!) a singularly sobering, soothing effect on humanity. What comes out, eventually, is not quite so wild and purely destructive any more. The product may still be curious enough; but it is a product, is has some reality; and it is the obligation of this century to observe, and learn from, such products. This is what is needed to help comprehend our time, which is fraught with hope and danger about equally.

I recognise both the existence of frightening ideas – a product largely of unconscious world around us – and the effect of the humanizing qualities, the contribution of conscious effort.

T. Lux Feininger
1956, Cambridge, Massachusetts

© The Estate of T. Lux Feininger

Published here with kind permission of The Estate of T. Lux Feininger, Westport, MA

Transcript Cecilia A. M. Witteveen, 2019

Published by CHRYSALIS – the pocket revue of the arts, 1956, Volume IX, Numbers 9-10

T. Lux Feininger

THE BAUHAUS and I by T. Lux Feininger (1947)

I was very young when I joined the Bauhaus as a student, less than 17 years of age. Before that, I had been in contact with it ever since we moved to Weimar in 1919, when I was nine years old. The Bauhaus people, no matter what their differences amongst themselves may have been, were kind to, and conscious of, children and the new generation in general. This was a natural sympathy – the Bauhaus was essentially a young idea.

My very earliest reminiscences of Weimar already portray the split between the Bauhaus world and the outer world. For six days a week (there were then no Saturdays off), four or five hours a day, I was obliged to attend the Wilhelm Ernst Gymnasium, a ponderous seat of learning, where the dead languages were instilled into me and others to the tunes of the Teutonic equivalent of the hick’ry stick. This, however, was not even the most disagreeable feature of this institute. The rest of the time, I was free to roam through the Bauhaus and its workshops, where I could always be sure of a welcome and of some interesting activity or spectacle.

At the gymnasium, my school fellows, those little cannibals, made no secret of the fact that they thought it both ghastly and silly to have a modern painter as father. I had to learn to keep them at arms length, which, thanks to some early, rudimentary but efficient, advice I had received (from my father) in the manly art of modified murder I was finally able to accomplish.
The teachers, with very few exceptions, discriminated against Bauhaus children; altogether, these years would have been totally unhappy had it not been for the refreshing contact with the Bauhaus. These early experiences gave me a better insight into the German national character than almost anything else could have done. I mean the fact both the Bauhaus and gymnasium were German institutions, and both typical – in their way!

At the age of sixteen and a half, I was as free as a bird. The painful memories of Weimar were dim [1]. The Bauhaus had moved to Dessau. I joined the Vorkurs of the class of 1926, the first to get under way in the new, beautiful building erected for the Bauhaus, designed by Walter Gropius, the director of the Bauhaus and paid for by the hospitable city of Dessau.

What was it like? There is much competent literature on that subject. It was wonderful! There is no room to describe the full effect of clean, functional planning, of light and air, clean-cut and suitable materials, of the school building as well as of the houses built for the masters and their families. It was like a new and very much better world.

In Weimar, we had lived in a huge, three-story house my parents had rented. It had a bathroom in the basement, a cool and dank place, where the water was heated in a small wood stove; this was the only hot-water supply. There were all of three cold-water faucets in the entire house. The toilets were of the non-automatic type, emptying into a cesspool which, about one a month, was emptied by an ambulatory, municipal pump, which transferred the contents into a horse-drawn vehicle. Central heating had been installed before the war but was so ineffectual that each room had its iron stove, which was fired with wood and peat. For six years, the only baths I took were in a collapsible rubber tub, the hot water poured from a stone jug which had to be filled in the kitchen. I forgot to say that the kitchen was in the basement, too. This house had been leased from a member of the local aristocracy, a Freiherr, sort of a baronet.

In Dessau, things were different. The houses [for the Masters] were owned by the city. There were large windows, terraces, balconies and flat roofs; there was sunlight in the rooms, the house was airy yet well and easily heated. There was decent plumbing. Interior decoration was in color schemes designed by the prospective inhabitants. Outside, there was much open space and many tall, slender pine trees [2].

The main building of the Bauhaus has been described too often and too well for me to try to compete. It forms one of the major formative experiences of my life, to have begun my adult studies in its architecture. The mind, and the skill of one’s hands, could not help clearing and perfecting themselves under its clean, light-flooded influence.

On the official opening day, the building was flying three huge banners, reaching from the roof to the ground, yellow, red and blue, the three primary colors. I liked this solution, which replaced the compromise, then common for public buildings, of flying both the official Republican flag (black, red and gold) and the old, Imperial flag (black, white and red) which the Nationalist party had wished back on the hapless Republic which called itself a “Reich” [3].

But I must provide some factual information. My studies at the Bauhaus, probably due to my extreme youth, were a little dispersed in character. The painter was already strong in me, although I did not realize it. But this creature cracked his shell very suddenly, about three years later. I think that this event already cast a shadow ahead in those earlier years.
As the collective work is of primary interest, I will describe work in the stage class with Oskar Schlemmer, and the Bauhaus band or Kapelle, in somewhat more detail.
Of my own work of those three years (1926-1929) I shall describe my photography.

The Stage Class

From the first, the shapes and colors emerging from this underground place [where workshops were located] had the strongest fascination for me. A mysterious world, of the greatest appeal to the imagination, was existing under our feet, constantly preparing fresh surprises to be enacted with every opportunity on the Bauhaus stage.
When, after completing the first term, the preliminary Vorkurs, I was admitted to the stage workshop, I was the happiest of students.
The direction Concerning Oskar Schlemmer’s theories, the Museum of Modern Art has, in its Bauhaus book, valid material for general information [4]. I should like to present my own impressions, which were to remain untainted by any subsequent external disillusionment, such as was almost bound to follow if I had selected the theatre as career.

The Bauhaus stage, of which Schlemmer was the presiding spirit rather than the master in the sense of sole, empiric authority, put the entity “Man” on view, in his basic world: The inner shell -costume, expressing dimensions and direction of movement; mask, psychological expression. The outer shell – the space of the stage, the stage architecture which it is impossible to call decoration. “Man” served to express “architecture”; “architecture” expressed the dimensions, the movements, the life, of “Man”. Clear and strong-colored light, or dim and mysterious glow, formed and underlined the stage space; sound, rhythmically supporting action, or suggestion action at a darkened scene – these were the basic elements of the production.

Theories are more or less easily written, but the excitement and interest of a performance is a difficult thing to describe. The arrival of a shape, in white and black, in precise, expressive movements, upon a stage in total black, the diagonals of which are emphasized by white tape, the scene sparsely and mysteriously lighted and filled with the sound of a drum – had the impact of a grave event. The slightest movement acquired meaning, the least change in light, or in the cadence of the drum, was observed [5].

Other sounds, other figures arriving, bearing a stool, a step-ladder and a huge, white globe; placing these objects on the stage and performing rhythmical evolutions around them; the colors – red yellow, blue, black and white (green was considered non-basic); the sounds – the drum, the tom-tom, the cymbal, a rattle, a whistle, whirring, humming, droning and tick-tacking noises; the motions – stilted stepping, crouching, bounding; slow rotation; the masks – full round, eggshaped heads rather than false faces, with large Egyptian eyes, finished in red, gold and metallic blue; the costumes – Baroque tights, padded to achieve a grotesque uniformity, emphasizing the human curves and dimensions - these are some of the elements which I remember making up the “Dance of Gestures” or “Gestentanz” [6].

These, and similar, costumes and props formed the building blocks for other creations. The main purpose was to free forms, space and movement from their accumulated, literary contexts and restore these basic elements [of stage production] to their original meaning. In collective work, the basis of what was to be a Bauhaus choreography was assembled; this work was to included, later on, the spoken word and, ultimately, music, to form the comprehensive expression of total theatre, to be composed of dance, pantomime, dramatic script, musical score, the play of movies and mechanical devices.
There was abundant activity; rehearsals and improvisations extended often into the small hours of the morning. There was little time for recording the fulness of creation, unfortunately. The color, life and gayety which our work injected into the Bauhaus activities have passed along with other things – but I am certain that they will revive somewhere, some time, in some other shape, but equally exciting and valid.

I was particularly enamored of the making of masks, and, after executing several collectively formulated ideas, went over to the shaping of my own creations, keeping these, however, in harmony with the collectively established trends. The technique of paper maché was developed to a high degree of perfection. I also revived the ancient art of woodcarving for masks, after studies of Japanese Nō masks, and succeeded in producing sufficiently light, yet substantial, masks for practical use on the stage [7]. One of the unforgotten highlights of those days is a solo improvisation performed by Oskar Schlemmer, in a dinner jacket, holding my recently finished, snow-white wooden mask before his face, at the occasion of a Bauhaus festival [8].
The theories of stage craft were taught, seminary style, in informal classes sometimes held outdoors, on the Bauhaus roof. More formal courses were Figure Drawing, by Schlemmer, an art historical course centering around representation of the human figure, from Albrecht Dürer to the present day; and Xanti Schawinsky’s class of practical and applied stage design, in which he gave us the benefit of his experience in transferring the Bauhaus ideas onto the outside theatre with its specific problems. Then there were the more general subjects, required for all workshops, of life drawing, geometrical representation, drafting and blue-printing and the study of material from the angles of manufacturing and design.

The Bauhaus Band (“Bauhaus-Kapelle”)

Originating at sources close to the Bauhaus stage, the Bauhaus band is foremost in my recollections of the “twenties”.
I was only fifteen when I first heard it. It was also the first time in my life that I heard anything described as jazz. The band was thus referred to, which was not quite the proper term to use for its earliest stage of development.
It was at a house party given by a wealthy gentleman in Hellerau, near Dresden, a community housing the school in which I spent my last year of pre-Bauhaus schooling, finishing my education in surroundings as happy as those of Weimar has been otherwise. The band burst on me without warning. At former Bauhaus dances, there had been a piano, or an accordion, played more or less ably without providing special excitement. But this was something not to be forgotten.

I wonder what the same music, played by the same four fellows, would sound like today? – Oh, it was a wonderful experience, coming back to me clear and sharp, through 22 years of all sorts of other adventures. What good can it do to describe the simple instrumentation (which, nevertheless, I will do, for the sake of the record), or the simple tunes? It was the fire and the will that those guys put into their simple, musical expressions.
It was primitive and entrancing. The appeal of the many percussion instruments which were used to underline a melody simple and powerful enough to pierce through the thumping, rattling, banging and clanging of the drums, snare drums, tom-toms, tambourine, tympanum and “devil’s fiddle” was primarily to the sense of rhythm. Precision was the sole check to orgiastic delirium.

The melodies were what I should call, with the experience gained in the subsequent years, basic dance tunes, that is to say, they were folk music. Impossible to say how old some of them may have been.
The melody carried by the piano (in itself partaking of percussion characteristics and sometimes disrespectfully tampered with, by means of insertion of thumbtacks in the hammers) and a so-called “Swanee whistle”, that peculiar, tubular wind instrument wherein modulations of the basic notes are achieved by sliding piston, actuated by a continuous flutter of the wrist. A warbling tone is thus produced, melancholy and blue in the low register, but ecstatic and hysterical in the high. There was also a “Flex-a-tone”, which is a device consisting of two wooded clappers rattling against a sheet of bent steel, the camber of which is modified by increasing or relaxing pressure of the hand holding it, while the clappers are actuated by means of rapidly shaking the instrument. It seems to me that I can still see, and hear Xanti [Schawinsky], perched atop a tall pedestal, with his huge blazing teeth clenched around the embouchure of the Swanee whistle, pumping the piston while raptly shaking the flex-a-tone with this other hand – personification of controlled delirium.

Then there was in impressive array of big and little drums. These were not of the flashy, expensive, mother-of-pearl inlaid, opalescent plastic manufacture which we have come to associate with dance orchestras. They were husky, substantial, and partly home-made; they were basic drums. But no Gene Krupa ever subjected his “skins” to a more merciless and protracted beating than these honest calf hides had to withstand. Their music, as it were, insinuated itself right under your own skin; the only escape was to run, and run far, because I recall the sound of the big drum booming out over the otherwise silent, nocturnal fields surrounding the Dessau Bauhaus, when not another sound could be heard far and wide.

An instrument referred to as “the Frog” was a home-made precursor of the foot-actuated double tympanum of trap drummers. It was a substantial scissor, formed by two hinged hardwood boards, held apart by a powerful coil spring, each board fitted with a cymbal and painted red. In order to overcome the spring pressure, the foot had to come down on it hard, which produced an epic crash. The frog was temperamental, and, if kicked the wrong way, would bound away from the drummer in a mighty, salmon-like leap.

The device already mentioned as the “Devil’s Fiddle’, also called onomatopoetically “Bumm Bass”, deserves a description which I hope the editor or censor will not prune from these pages. Its body was a stout pole, about five and a half feet long, fitted, at the lower end, with a solid rubber foot, and, at the upper, with a small brass tympanum loosely seated upon a stem.
About one third way up from the ground a small drum body with only one skin was mounted. Above it, on the pole, was a high bridge similar to that of a bass viol. A stout wire was stretched, from the foot of the pole, across the bridge, to the head. A small, bent metal arm was seated on the wire where it passed over the drumhead, fitted with a small, hardwood knob at the end touching the drum head.
The ”fiddle bow” was a piece of wood, about 3 feet long, with pyramidal teeth out into it. The player (or should I say, operator?) held the bumbass in one hand, thumping it on the ground with the music (down beat), and drawing the “bow” across the wire (up beat). Any student of elementary mechanics will readily understand that the impact of the teeth of the bow imparted a rapid vibration to the wire, which induced an equally rapid series of concussion of the metal arm on the drum head. The dull impact of the rubber foot on the floor, overlaid by the jangling of the tympanum at the head (which, I forgot to mention, also was trimmed with four small bells, like sleigh bells), and the scraping and banging of the bow on the wire produced, in the hands of a skillfull musician, music of much more variety than one might think.
An ingenious invention, and one of the passing of which from jazz bands may well be deplored.

All these contraptions would have meant nothing, however, without the divine fire, possessing the musicians. It was the poetry of machinery, expressed in human terms. Perhaps, present-day listeners would call the terms inhuman, with our ears sissified by years of genteel, commercial swing separating us from those more rugged, pioneer days. The redeeming element of the mechanized music was the quality of the melody.

The early tunes of the Bauhaus were of Hungarian, Russian, generally Slavic origin; there were also many fine, old Hebrew melodies. In this connection it would be a crime to omit mentioning the name of Andreas [Andor] Weininger, for several years the very soul of the band, the best interpreter of this type of melody the Kapelle ever had. The band took what it could get, from its varying members. Later, when the Bauhaus had established more liaison with the Western world, American melodies entered the repertoire in the most natural manner. Likewise, several French tunes, of the kind heard at the Bal Musette, and the Bal Nègre, were valued numbers in our program. I remember some names: «La Vrai Java», «Le Houppa-Houppa»[10], «Je cherche apès Titine».

Nothing could shake my resolution to join the band sooner or later. This decision was formed with dreamlike certainty, on the spot where I stood spell-bound, listening and watching these four guys in their red, yellow, blue and white shirts. About two years later, this wish came true.
The band had gone through an evolution in the meantime. Its membership had changed, as had the instrumentation. The main addition was a banjo, played admirably well by Clemens Röseler, who became my instructor on this instrument and, subsequently, my best friend, until his most untimely death in 1934. My deep delight, upon first hearing the banjo, was comparable in intensity and effect to the first contact with the band. The occasion was the inauguration of the Bauhaus building, December 1926 [Dec. 4, 1926], and the outcome another resolution: “That’s for me”, said I to myself [11].

I must rapidly go through the next few years of development of the band. Its promising growth was rudely broken off, as were all other promises lavished by the Bauhaus upon an ungrateful and blind country.

What fascinates me, in retrospect, was the jumping of the spark of the real jazz, the one and only, the Blues Jazz, from New Orleans to Dessau. For that was what it amounted to, with Röseler’s arrival in the band. We still continued to play the Eastern tunes. But this man, who had never been outside of Germany, understood and expressed the Blues instinctively, naturally – I can’t prove it, you have to take the word of one who considers Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodd, Sidney Bechet and Jellyroll Morton to be contributors to the immortal music of the world. Clemens played the banjo (where did he learn it? He was self-taught-) in the style of Johnny St. Cyr, Armstrong’s banjo player. Later on, he learned to play the trombone in four weeks. He made arrangements for the entire band [12]. He played the piano (not in the band) and fashioned his style after that of the pianist (I wish I could learn his name [13]) of the group recording, in 1925, under the name of “The Goofus Five”.

As I consider the mystery of this transfer of an American art form to Europe, I am impressed with the improbability of the feat. Yet, it undeniably took place. And I find hope in that. Art will travel, if given half a chance, and where it is allowed admittance, all other good and useful thoughts find open doors.

In this country, surfeited as we are with jazz, both good and bad, mostly the latter, we find it hard to understand the role it played in Germany in the ‘twenties. In 1929, the Bauhaus band answered to the description of a jazz band. By then we had a basic instrumentation of (1) Alto Saxophone, (2) Clarinet, (3) Trombone, (4) Piano, (5) Drums. No. 1 also played the Soprano Saxophone, No. 2 and No. 3 each could double on banjo; we thus had a variety of possible combinations [14].
We travelled all over Germany to play at dances and parties. People either loved us, or hated us, both fervently. We were hailed as the greatest little band in Europe, or dubbed with epithets such as the following (the authenticity of which is sworn to): The Jewish-Marxistic, Jazz, Nigger and Bauhaus Kultur-Boshevists.”

My band chapter must come to an end. I will sum up: In the band, as well as in the Bauhaus at large, an ever-changing group of young people shared in the great experience of participating in the establishing of new art forms. This was the outcome of their own growth, not of imitation.
So far as my own, impressionable person is concerned, I view this experience as the voluntary blending of the individual into the group, motivated by the knowledge that, through the element of coordination, the impact of the individual gains the momentum, lent to it in exchange for the contribution, of the entire group. To those who doubt this I say: You can’t play jazz any other way – you can’t play ball any other way.


There was no photographic class at the Bauhaus while I studied there. Already prior to my joining the school I had done some work on my own. A couple of years afterwards, with the aid of an ex-Bauhaus student who had gone into full-time photography and made a name for himself, Otto Umbehr (Umbo), I discovered to my great surprise that I had been discovered, and that there was “gold in tham thar hills” – in other words, that my perfectly unconscious and non-highbrow pictures had a marketable value. This evolution dates back to 1926, and it was around that time that photographic illustration of newspapers and periodicals really got underway. For a couple of years my work appeared in a good many illustrated magazines and international exhibitions [15].

The Museum of Modern Art, through Alfred Barr, Jere Abbott and P. [Philipp] Johnson, acquired photographs of mine. It has been suggested to me that my photography had the quality of advance guard work. That I concede would be true if I had participated more consciously in such a movement [16].

My principles were extremely uncomplicated: I aimed at documentation, the expression of the moment of greatest concentration. I preferred outdoor light, and worked with primitive equipment. Almost the entire record of Bauhaus life, which I compiled in my photographic work from 1926-1930, has been lost beyond recovery.

My very real and urgent interest in photography was transmuted into as real and insistent an urge to paint. This came upon me shortly after graduation from the Bauhaus in 1929. Soon, my photography (which I still practice) was relegated to the auxiliary role it has played ever since [17]. You cannot serve two masters.

With the arrival of painting in my life, I believe that the formative Bauhaus years reach their natural and logical conclusion. What came after the Bauhaus was the impact of the individual, strengthened and braced by early training of a unique and unforgettable nature, upon the outer, wide world.

T. Lux Feininger
May 1947, New York, NY

© The Estate of T. Lux Feininger

Published here with kind permission of The Estate of T. Lux Feininger, Westport, MA

Transcript Cecilia A. M. Witteveen,
Critical review Siegfried B Schaefer
www.kunst-archive.net/ www.art-archives.net, Duesseldorf, 2020


[1] Even before their graduation T. Lux Feininger and his brother Laurence changed high schools from the unloved Gymnasium in Weimar to the modern Neue Schule for progressive education in Hellerau near Dresden, graduating in spring 1925. In 1926 the family moved from Weimar to Dessau. For the winter semester 1926 T. Lux Feininger begins his studies at the Bauhaus Dessau, starting with the preliminary course of Josef Albers.

[2] Dessau. Each of the Bauhaus-Masters, Lyonel Feininger und Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, occupy a semi-half of one of the master houses on Burgkühnauer Allee:

[3] Flags in front of the Bauhaus in Dessau: https://www.kunst-archive.net/en/wvz/t_lux_feininger/works/blick_nach_oben_nordwand_des_werkstaettengebaeudes_mit_zwei_bauhaus_flaggen/type/all

[4] Bauhaus 1919-1928, ed. Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius, Ise Grupius, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1938: https://www.kunst-archive.net/en/wvz/t_lux_feininger/literature?q=bauhaus+1919-1928

[5] Described here is the „Bottom geometry“ (Bodengeometrie), part of a program by Oskar Schlemmer in which the Bauhaus stage performs its Demonstration of systematical Exploration of the formal Elements for stage production, a program of different scenes dealing with dance, staging and the figure in space; see further information with the artworks/photographs: https://www.kunst-archive.net/en/wvz/t_lux_feininger/works?v=grid&hpp=25&start=0&group=type&filter=all&medium=&categories=&q=figur+im+raum

[6] Photographs of scenes from Oskar Schlemmer‘s „Dance of Gestures“ (Gestentanz) by T.Lux Feininger are not known. Photographs of the „Form Dance“ (Formentanzes) are documented in the catalogue raisonné; see further information with the artworks/photographs: https://www.kunst-archive.net/en/wvz/t_lux_feininger/works?v=grid&hpp=25&start=0&group=type&filter=all&medium=&categories=&q=formentanz

[7] Masks by T. Lux Feininger, photographed by T. Lux Feininger; see further information with the artworks/photographs: https://www.kunst-archive.net/en/wvz/t_lux_feininger/works?v=grid&hpp=25&start=0&group=type&filter=all&medium=5&categories=&q=masks+by+t.+lux+feininger

[8] The White Mask, Photograph, Painting: https://www.kunst-archive.net/en/wvz/t_lux_feininger/works/maske_der_bauhaus-buehne/type/all

[9] Eugene Bertram „Gene“ Krupa (Chicago/Ill. 1909 – 1973 Yonker/N.Y.), renowned american Jazz drummer and bandleader, celebrated for his enduring drum solos.

[10] A tune with this title could not be found. Possibly it refers to a song of the French singer, La Houppa, who in the 1930ies was very popular with her interpretation of folcloric chansons.

[11] T. Lux Feininger made several photographs of the Bauhaus Band, also unsing a self-timer; see further information with the artworks/photographs:

[12] T. Lux Feininger photographed his friend and mentor, Hermann Clemens Röseler, several times, also playing the banjo: https://www.kunst-archive.net/en/wvz/t_lux_feininger/works?v=grid&start=0&q=r%C3%B6seler&group=type&filter=all&hpp=50&medium=5&categories= . The artist immortalised Röseler‘s trombone with a painting, which today is in the collection of the Bauhaus Museum Weimar: https://www.kunst-archive.net/en/wvz/t_lux_feininger/works/stilleben_mit_posaune/type/all . The Marriage at Coblentz: https://www.kunst-archive.net/en/wvz/t_lux_feininger/works/die_hochzeit_von_coblenz/type/all and the early death of his friend : https://www.kunst-archive.net/en/wvz/t_lux_feininger/works/seebestattung/type/all T. Lux Feininger commemorated through painings.

[13] It seems this is Teddy Wilson (Theodore Shaw Wilson, Austin/TX 1912 – 1986 New Britain/CT), one of the most important American Jazz piano players.

[14] The Line-up of the band in1929: (1) Xanti Schawinski, as, ss; (2) Lux Feininger, cl, bj; (3) Clemens Röseler tp, bj; (4) Eddie Collein, p (later also: Friedhelm Stenger, p); (5) Ernst Egeler, dr. Naturally the line-ups chnages over time. 1927 Andor Weininger is still playing the piano; among other members were Werner Jackson (Isaaksohn) on drums, Heinrich Koch handling the “Bumbass”.

[15] Otto Umbehr („Umbo“), contracted by the Berlin photo agency DEPHOT (Deutscher Photodienst) himself, arranged for an agreement with T. Lux Feininger, who starts sending prints to Berlin; via DEPHOT plenty of his photographs were sold to print media, i.a. to „Variétés“ from Brussels in 1929, or „Die Woche“ 1929, 1930; see LITERATURE

[16] The purchase of photographs by MoMA director Alfred Barr and the MoMA’s interest in his photographic work during his time at the Bauhaus, was the occasion for T. Lux Feininger to write this essay which defines his relationsship to the Bauhaus school.

[17] Das photographic Oeuvre by T. Lux Feininger divides into three phases: Early and later works in Germany, including the important documentations of the life at the Bauhaus. The pre-war years in the United States of America, when exploring New York City. And finally, the resumption of his artistic work after his service in the US Army during WWII, then expanding into experimental photography.
[VITA 1925/1945: His photographs of the years 1925-1936 gain fame because of their distinctive style. In his essay Philip Ursprung states: “Lux Feininger has a more relaxed and playful relation to the camera”, and continues: “In his photographs, the Bauhaus turned from a space of education to a stage for lifestyle [and] … recall the ideal of an autonomous, protected and free community” [2017, see: TEXTS]. – During the artist’s first years in the USA, until he joined the United States Army, 1936-1942, photographs were mainly taken in New York City. He stays focused on people, but is also fascinated by engines, harbor sceneries, trucks and traffic. – After the Second World War, while continuing this thematic interest, he expands his photographic oeuvre by artistic and technical experiments, 1945-1958.]

close Login now
To be able to use the complete range of our website, we kindly ask you to register.
  • Forgot password
  • No account yet?
    Register now