Sunday, 20 March 2011

City at the Edge of the World

Recently, Michael Sporn’s blog has featured a series of wonderful posts on the artist Lyonel Feininger. Michael’s posts are here: one, two, three, four, five, and six.

Feininger is renowned as a painter and printmaker, but also held in high regard for his early work as a cartoonist. Less well known are his efforts at toy design, both commercial and for his own family.

These photographs are from a 1965 book by two of his sons.

Lyonel Feininger’s love of boats, trains, and model making lasted from boyhood into old age.

As he developed his own style of lighthearted expressionism in his drawings, his model making moved from precisely detailed realistic reproductions to more playful caricatured forms. Living in Germany in the years leading up to World War One, he developed designs and prototypes of toy trains  for a Munich firm. The outbreak of war brought the project to a halt just as the models were on the verge of going into production.

For most of the war years Feininger lived a withdrawn life, and after the war, new toys appeared. His son, T. Lux, wrote:
If the model trains of 1914 had been reasonable, the toys of the post-war years don’t even try to be. Quite the contrary: proportion, harmony of related parts, any possibility of ‘functioning’ in the accepted sense of the word, has been abandoned. After 1914 my father made no more trains; from around 1920 on, houses, people and ships, are the subject matter of the carved playthings...
I can’t remember when exactly the toy town had begun; but in 1921 already my father writes that “the time for my periodical craze for making toys for Christmas is approaching. Every year I get the urge to saw wood into bits and paint them in bright colours. The boys take it for granted that I shall make ‘mannequins’ for them.”
These “boys” were then 15, 12 and 11 years old, respectively. Speaking for my brother Laurence and myself, I may say that we still did “take it for granted” that there would be new citizens for the growing city; but in view of his continuing production year after year one may presume that there was a direct reward for the artist in the gratification of his “annual urge.” In 1931 he still wrote of the “usual toy-making season,” but soon afterward, his saw and chisel began a long rest, not to be broken until he had entered his old age.
...the toy town and its inhabitants have only an early and a late period. The photographs combine examples of both. The long hiatus between the two phases, during which all this fantastic life went underground, remains visually un-illustrated.
In the post-World War II [New York] winter whittlings, the artist achieves an absolute climax of the witches’ sabbath begun so long ago. The last restraints have been discarded and “spooks,” regular ghosts in white winding sheets, even a horned, blue shape, doing their best to look “harmless,” make their appearance. There are also, for the first time, animals: owls, cats, an elephant...

Words and pictures from Lyonel Feininger; City at the Edge of the World, text by T.Lux Feininger, photographs by Andreas Feininger, published by Frederick A Praeger, New York, 1965.

Copyright 1965 in Munich, Germany, by Rütten & Loening Verlag GmbH.


Michael Sporn said...

I'm speechless. Thanks for sharing the book with us.

kellie said...

There are a couple of characters that look straight out of the Kin-Der-Kids. And the birds with hats on the cover are great, aren't they? I don't remember seeing versions of them in any of his drawings.

Oscar Grillo said...


Anonymous said...

I just found out about this book. Too bad it is no longer in print. Wondrous, stupendous work!