Lyonel Feininger was born on July 17, 1871, in New York City. When he was 16 years old he began studying art, attending schools in Hamburg, Berlin, and Paris from 1887 to 1892. After completing his studies, he worked as a freelance cartoonist and illustrator in Berlin before moving to Paris, where, in 1907, he made his first oil painting. In 1917, he had his first solo exhibition at Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin.
One year after his solo exhibition, in 1918, Feininger started making woodcuts. He became enamored with woodcuts, producing an impressive 117 in his first year of learning the medium. In 1919 he was appointed as the first master at the newly formed Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar. His woodcut of a cathedral crowned by three stars illustrated the cover of the Bauhaus manifesto. It was among the 76 woodblocks he cut that year. He also published a portfolio of 12 woodcuts plus a title page, which has the distinction of being the school’s first publication.
In 1921, Feininger became master of form and head of the Bauhaus printing workshop. Together with Walter Gropius, he initiated a series of print portfolios. By 1926, he had cut 256 woodblocks. That same year he moved with the Bauhaus to its new location in Dessau, where he published a portfolio of 10 woodcuts.
From 1929 to 1931, Feininger worked on a series of paintings of the city of Halle (Saale). In 1935, the National Socialists (Nazis) declared his art “degenerate.” As the Nazis gained power, Feininger and his wife, Julia, determined that life in Germany was untenable. In 1937, after nearly 50 years in the country, he and his family left for the United States. He eventually settled back in New York.
In 1942, Feininger received a purchase prize from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Two years later, he was granted a retrospective with Marsden Hartley at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Feininger died on January 13, 1956.