Architecture II (The Man from Potin)
In 1919 Lyonel Feininger was hired by Walter Gropius to teach drawing at the Bauhaus in Weimar. This experience gave him a new ethical approach to art and enriched his ideas through his contact with Kandinsky, Klee and Schlemmer. Most of the works he produced during the years he remained connected to the school (until the Dessau centre closed in 1932) are characterised by architectural forms with crystalline fragmentations and very broad perspectives. Ever since he used to stroll through the streets of New York during his childhood and youth, the artist had been fascinated by life in the city, which over time became one of his favourite artistic themes. “The church, the mill, the bridge, the house — and the graveyard, ” he stated, “have all inspired me with deep feeling since childhood. They are all symbolic. But it is only since the war that I have realised why I feel this compulsion to keep representing them in pictures.”
Nevertheless, Architecture II or The Man from Potin, as the work is also called, like The Lady in Mauve — perhaps intended as its companion piece — falls outside the norm because it is not a perspective view and because of the importance accorded to the human figures in the architectural composition. It was clear to Hans Hess, the painter’s first biographer, that both paintings were based on his memories of the streets of Paris. According to T. Lux Feininger, who inherited the painting when his father died, the title of The Man from Potin refers to a delivery man employed by the famous grocery shop in the French capital.
In the present painting the artist shuns the typical crystalline forms of the period and is chiefly concerned with establishing colour contrasts. The curving volumes of the three foreground figures contrast with the geometrical forms of the buildings. The urban image of buildings deconstructed into multiple planes has the appearance of stage scenery. This impression is accentuated by the red curtain on the right side, which Peter Vergo has related to the sets for Robert Wiene’s film The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, which premiered in 1919.