Harvard’s Houghton Library and the Harvard Art Museum’s Lyonel Feininger Archive have collaborated to create an online research microsite presenting a comprehensive collection of Feininger’s largely un-seen photographic works. Harvard holds the majority of Feininger’s photographs, with some 500 photographic prints at the Houghton Library and approximately 18,000 negatives and slides in the Feininger Archive. All of this material has now been digitized and made available through a searchable database, located at the Lyonel Feininger Research Microsite – one of four such microsites created and maintained by Harvard.
The Busch Reisinger Museum at Harvard recently held two exhibitions featuring the work of Lyonel Feininger. The catalog for the photographic exhibition, Lyonel Feininger : photographs, 1928-1939 (Harvard Art Museums, 2011) is now available at the Ricker Library of Architecture and Art. The exhibitions, “Lyonel Feininger: Drawings and Watercolors from the William S. Lieberman Bequest to the Busch-Reisinger Museum” and “Lyonel Feininger: Photographs, 1928–1939” ran from February 26 to July 17 before traveling abroad. They represented Harvard’s extensive holdings of Feininger’s work, in particular his photographs – which had never before been exhibited.
Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) is well-known as a painter and an important contributor to the Bauhaus and German modern art. His long-term engagement with photography has never previously been explored. In the exhibition catalog for his photographic work, it is speculated that Feininger did not pursue photography more publicly because of his sons’ enthusiasm for the medium. Both of Feininger’s sons, Andreas and T. Lux made careers as photographers and writers on photography.
Harvard’s Feininger Microsite is the first widely accessible presentation of Feininger’s photography and it represents an enormous asset to Feininger researchers and enthusiasts. The content of the site was compiled and by Nathan J. Timpano (2009–2010 Stefan Engelhorn Curatorial Fellow, Busch-Reisinger Museum) and the commentary and biographical information is drawn from the exhibition catalog organized byLaura Muir (assistant curator, Busch-Reisinger Museum). The site allows users to search the collection by text, title, object number, date range, medium, subject and/or creation place. Additionally, given the low-profile nature of this collection and the presumed unfamiliarity of the user, the site offers an extremely useful feature wherein they can browse characteristic slideshows of prominent subjects within the collection. These include, ‘art documentation’, ‘Bauhaus’, ‘Trips to California’, ‘New England’ and ‘shop windows’ among others. Each of these subject slide shows bears an informational excerpt about the work presented. The site is smartly designed, easy to use, and the photographs are breathtaking.
With the Feininger exhibitions, catalog, and research microsite, Harvard has presented an interesting model where artistic collections, archival resources, and resident experts have been brought together to steward, curate, publish and develop new tools that act as both promotional tools for the museum and research tools for the University.