"When I was six or seven years old I was taken to the Metropolitan Museum, and of all the paintings I saw the only ones to make a deep impression on me were from a very early period; they represented Gothic architecture with figures, bright and beautiful in color and clearly...
"When I was six or seven years old I was taken to the Metropolitan Museum, and of all the paintings I saw the only ones to make a deep impression on me were from a very early period; they represented Gothic architecture with figures, bright and beautiful in color and clearly silhouetted. For many years I carried the recollection of these pictures with me. It seems to me they influenced my development as a painter." (Alois J. Schardt and Alfred H. Barr, Jr., "Lyonel Feininger/ Marsden Hartley," New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1944, p. 8). Gothic architecture did indeed become a major inspiration for Feininger, especially the medieval churches of Germany. Born in New York City, he had moved there in 1887, at the age of sixteen. Although he depicted some churches (particularly the one in Gelmeroda) multiple times, he painted the Regler Church in Erfurt just once. However, Feininger's choice of a larger than usual canvas for "Regler Church, Erfurt" suggests the importance of the subject to him. Erfurt is a city in central Germany about thirteen miles west of Weimar, a city Feininger had first visited in 1906 when his wife was studying at the Weimar Art School. He lived there again during his affiliation with the Bauhaus, the progressive art and design school founded by architect Walter Gropius. From Weimar, Feininger explored surrounding cities and towns, and many local churches became subjects for his paintings. Feininger wrote to the artist Alfred Kubin on June 15, 1913, "The villages - there must be nearly a hundred in the vicinity - are gorgeous. The architecture (you know how much I depend on it) is just to my liking. So inspiring - here and there uncommonly monumental. There are some church steeples in God-forsaken villages which belong among the most mystical achievements of so-called civilized man that I know…" (June L. Ness, ed., "Lyonel Feininger," New York: Praeger Publishers, 1974, p. 40). In Erfurt Feininger found two churches of interest: the Barfüsserkirche (Church of the Minorites), which he painted twice, and the Regler Church. Named after a prominent Erfurt family, the Regler Church was begun in 1135 and dedicated to Saint Augustine. Feininger based his painting on a charcoal drawing, "Die Regler Kirche, Erfurt" (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri), which he had completed in 1924. However, he did not paint "Regler Church, Erfurt" until 1930, after the Bauhaus had moved from nearby Weimar to Dessau. Feininger felt that he needed an interval of time between the immediate experience of the motifs and the final completion of his paintings, explaining that in this way, he would not be "bound too closely to the object." (letter to Julia Feininger, May 11, 1929, in Ness, p. 186). Time and distance minimized the details and impurities in his subjects and imparted an ethereal clarity to his paintings. Feininger had his first encounter with Cubism in Paris in 1911, and the style had a profound influence on his work. Although he never completely dissolved forms into abstractions, he began to fracture the shapes of the medieval buildings and cityscapes in his paintings into facets of color. By 1930 when he completed "Regler Church, Erfurt," Feininger's crystalline style was well-established. Parallel luminous, sharp-edged shards suggest streams of light falling on the church and emanating from it. Although the lower part of the structure is obscured by dark, geometric shapes, Feininger painted its distinctive Baroque and Romanesque towers so that the church is readily identifiable. His prismatic style was especially well-suited to conveying the spiritual nature of medieval architecture. Many critics have noted his affinity with the nineteenth-century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), whose Gothic churches and otherworldly light effects Feininger seems to have reinterpreted with a twentieth-century vocabulary. Fritz Hesse, the mayor of Dessau and an enthusiastic supporter of the Bauhaus, acquired "Regler Church, Erfurt" for the city shortly after it was painted. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, they accused Hesse of wasting public funds on "Bolshevik" Bauhaus art. "Regler Church, Erfurt" was included in the "exhibition of disgrace" the Nazis held in the office windows of the "Anthaltische Tageszeitung" newspaper. It was again displayed in September and October of 1937 in an exhibition called "Entartete Kunst" or "Degenerate Art" in Dessau. A few months before that exhibition, Feininger had departed from Germany for good to settle in New York City after being away from his native country for fifty years. Janet Comey
Upper left: Feininger
About 1930/1932, sold by the artist to Fritz Hesse (b. 1881 - d. 1973), mayor of Dessau, Germany, for the city of Dessau [see note 1]; 1937, removed from the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie, Dessau, and taken by the Nazi propaganda ministry to Berlin [see note 2]; 1938, transferred to Schloss Niederschönhausen, near Berlin [see note 3]; 1939, sold through Karl Buchholz to Curt Valentin (b. 1902 - d. 1954), Buchholz Gallery, New York [see note 4]; February, 1953, sold by Valentin to George David Thompson (b. 1899 - d. 1965), Pittsburgh. 1957, Galerie Beyeler, Basel; 1957, sold by Beyeler to the MFA for $12,000. (Accession Date: April 11, 1957) NOTES:  The painting originally hung in the Messel-Haus, the home of the mayor of Dessau. In 1933, it was removed and, in July of that year, included in an "exhibition of disgrace" in the office windows of the Anthaltische Tageszeitung newspaper, intended to demonstrate the squandering of public money on what was perceived as undesirable art. From September 19 - October 3, 1937, it was included in a local exhibition called "Entartete Kunst" or "Degenerate Art" at the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie. (This was not identical to the large exhibition of the same name that toured Germany and Austria from 1937 until 1941.) See Christoph Zuschlag, Entartete Kunst: Ausstellungsstrategien im Nazi-Deutschland (Worms, 1995), pp. 111, 338, no. 3.6, p. 354.  Between August and October 1937, works of art that were identified as "degenerate"--in particular, avant-garde or abstract modern paintings, works on paper, and sculptures--were removed from German public museums. The Nazi propaganda ministry took charge of these works of art, eventually selling or trading many of them, and destroying others. Feininger's Regler Church is listed among the 84 works of art taken from the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie, Dessau (Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda, " 'Entartete' Kunst," typescript inventory, 1942 [?], n. p., no. 10930, "Reglerkirche").  Zuschlag, 1995 (as above, n. 1), p. 168. Many works of "degenerate" art that were considered marketable were taken to the Schloss Niederschönhausen to be sold for foreign currency.  Four dealers were appointed to sell the art at Niederschönhausen, including Karl Buchholz. The " 'Entartete' Kunst" inventory (as above, n. 2) notes that Feininger's Regler Church was sold through Buchholz. As with other works from Niederschönhausen, Buchholz would have sold it to his associate, Curt Valentin, who had immigrated to the United States in 1937 and established the Buchholz Gallery in New York. According to Ralph F. Colin, executor of the Valentin estate, it was acquired by Valentin in November, 1939 (letter to the MFA, April 23, 1957). It is possible, though not certain, that this was one of the three Feininger oil paintings Valentin purchased from the propaganda ministry in December, 1939; see Andreas Hünecke, "On the Trail of Missing Masterpieces: Modern Art from German Galleries," in Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany, ed. Stephanie Barron (exh. cat. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991), pp. 121-133, esp. p. 130. Also see Lynn H. Nicholas, Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Cultural Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (New York, 1994), p. 24. It was included in "Landmarks in Modern German Art" (Buchholz Gallery, New York, April 2-27, 1940), cat. no. 3, a show organized by Valentin that was made up of works of "degenerate" art from German museums.
The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.