This black-and-white woodcut served as a cover design for the Bauhaus manifesto by architect and founder Walter Gropius. The image reflects the aura of medievalism that pervaded the initial phase of the Bauhaus, whose academic system harks back to the training employed by Late Gothic craft guilds. Lyonel Feininger was invited by Gropius in 1919 to head the printmaking workshop, and he retained his connection with the school until it closed, in 1933.
Gallery label from 2006.
A major figure in German avant-garde art of the early twentieth century, expatriate American painter Lyonel Feininger began his career in Berlin in the 1890s as an illustrator of satirical subjects. He later served as the first artistic director of the printing shop of the Bauhaus, a progressive arts-and-crafts school founded at Weimar in 1919. Of the more than three hundred woodcuts Feininger produced, the one initially titled The Cathedral of Socialism is the most historically significant and widely admired. It served as a cover design for the Bauhaus manifesto by architect Walter Gropius and was meant to symbolize both the unity and the spiritual basis of the various arts under the primacy of architecture.
The fragmented and intersecting planes that convey dynamism in Cathedral first appeared in Feininger’s work about 1911, under the influence of Cubism. His drypoint The Gate, depicting tiny figures in a medieval setting animated by exaggerated proportions, includes stark contrasts of light and dark and skewed forms. Feininger’s love of Gothic architecture is evident in this town gate, which he depicted in woodcuts and paintings. This print, a high point in Feininger’s oeuvre of some sixty-five intaglios from 1906 to 1924, was published after the war in an important series of German print portfolios entitled Die Schaffenden. After Feininger returned to the United States in 1937 to avoid Nazi accusations of being a “degenerate” artist, his printmaking was confined to a small group of lithographs made with noted printer George C. Miller in New York in the 1950s.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Jennifer Roberts, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 67.