Art and Devastation: A Tour of German Post-War Expressionism #7

Lyonel Feininger, The Gate and Church in the Woods 2, 1920. Woodcut. MoMA.

While Paul Klee tried to open the inner reality of things, Feininger focused on the structure of the external world. His images, like these woodcuts, are well-ordered and feature light.

The Gate is filled with ambiguity even as it shows the play of light. A road cuts through the center of the print toward a gate, lit from within. But a black sun splashes light over the left side of the image. Facing the same direction are dark facades with lit windows and lit facades with dark windows. What is the light source? The world seems to be lighting itself.

Feininger is more direct in Church in the Woods 2. In the midst of a dark forest is a white church. Light sprays heavenward from the snow, just as the spire points up. It is an unusual image: an expressionist woodcut with an explicitly religious symbol rendered without cynicism or irony. (I can’t help but think the style of the church betrays Feininger’s American roots.)