Lyonel Feininger

(American, active in Germany, 1871–1956)

In a Village Near Paris (Street in Paris, Pink Sky)

, 1909
Oil on canvas, 39 3/4 x 32 in.
Gift of Owen and Leone Elliott, 1968.15

 

Cartoon-like characters appear to be hurrying down a village street at dusk in late autumn. Implausible colors and a variety of perspectives define the composition. Lyonel Feininger’s fantastical representation of urban street life seems to capture a moment in time much as a photograph does—it is an embodiment of the distinctive characteristics of modern life.

The distorted figures seen in the painting recall Feininger’s 1906–1907 Chicago Tribune comic series The Kin-der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie’s World. Like his comic characters, the figures in the painting are strangely elongated with small heads on large bodies or squat and rotund, with very little detail on their faces.

Feininger’s multi-vantage point composition and Fauvist color scheme encourages a sensation of ambiguity. Buildings seem tilted and irregular, almost as if they are on the verge of toppling. The scale is reordered—some of the human figures appear more substantial than the buildings—and the color, of the sky in particular, is brash and unnatural. Yet, in spite of the confusing scene, In a Village Near Paris emerges as a vibrant, harmonious, and almost cheerful painting that reflects an advancing modern world.