Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Paintings I like #2: Bird Cloud, Lyonel Feininger

Lyonel Feininger, Vogelwolke (Wolke nach dem Sturm),1926
Oil on canvas, 44x72cm
Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, MA

Vogelwolke - Wolkenvogel; Bird Cloud - Cloud Bird.

It was the onomatopoeic [that sounds rather posh for the German lautmalerisch that I had in mind] qualities of the German title of Feininger's painting that kept me occupied when I first saw it: The sounds the words make.
Or was it the vast expanse of the cloud over a low horizon seascape...
Or was it the beauty of the concept: an airy cloud in the shape of a huge bird.
Or was it the yellow of the beach and the lonely figure on the left.

In any case: it's been a firm favourite of mine since I first came across it in print. The format and the rather restrained composition: strong horizontal lines, a single figure to the front left and above it all the majestic cloud, its wings, its beak.

After my sketching of lonely women in the Fogg Museum I ventured around the corner and stumbled right across it. Didn't know it was there, so it was an absolute surprise, gave me goosebumps, made me circle around the painting for ages, up close, far away, almost poking my nose at it, trying to figure out how Feininger made all those lines, variations of colour - restraint and yet so varied. Walk away, went back - in the process almost ignored the excellent German expressionists that hang close by: E-L Kirchner, Otto Mueller, Max Beckmann. Sorry, guys - you'll have to wait until the next time.

It's all about the Vogelwolke/Wolkenvogel today.

Two sketches of the Bird cloud, 1924
(top one in pencil, bottom one in ink and wash)
Also at the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, MA

And these I found in my Feininger book: sketches after he saw the Bird after a storm, note how he changed the composition to a horizontal one in the oil painting, done a couple of years after the sketches.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Mr. Fishhead needs some time, I am just too busy at the moment.... But i will keep you informed, stay tuned.

littlemithi said...

Good grief! I hadn't even spotted that there was a bird in the painting (yes, the title confused me) until I saw the sketches ...

Gesa said...

That's so funny, Mithi... I've known this painting for a long time, I had stopped realising its abstraction :)
Mule - yes, I'll be watching out for Mr Fishhead...