Feininger Stands Out in Early-Modernist Art Show

SOME shows are difficult to review. Others are easy. And a few can be described as wholly pleasurable. For me, exhibitions of work by Redon, Klee, Mir'o, and Calder fall into the last category. And I've learned to expect nothing but pleasure from presentations of Old Master prints and drawings, surveys of Cubist paintings, and samplings of early modern masters - especially if choice but hitherto unknown works by some of my favorites are included. I knew fortune had smiled on me, when I heard that the Lafayette Parke Gallery here was opening its season with outstanding pieces by five early 20th-century masters: Max Beckmann, Lyonel Feininger, Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, and Christian Rohlfs.

Among the nearly 50 works on view, a dozen are close to first rate, and most of the rest are special enough to warrant a visit.

The artists are represented not just with paintings but also a selection of drawings and watercolors. And here, Beckmann comes off best. Not only does he have a major oil, his 1925 ``Self-Portrait with White Hat,'' and several other fine canvases on view; we also see a dozen of his finest prints.

Chief among them are six of the 10 Jahrmarkt Portfolio drypoints executed in 1921 and printed on light pink paper. They show Beckmann the draftsman/printmaker at his leanest and most incisive, in total command of both style and medium.

Nolde also scores dramatically with a print. The large 1913 color lithograph ``Three Holy Kings'' is one of his most effective graphic works. His starkly simplified 1907 lithographic self-portrait also comes across nicely, as does the Munch-like pen-and-ink study of a ``Couple'' from 1906.

IT'S in his paintings and watercolors, however, that Nolde is at his most powerful in this show - expressively in his 1914 oil ``The Two Goldsmiths,'' and coloristically in ``Tiger Lilies and Dahlias.''

Klee is represented by a major oil, ``Monument in Arbeit,'' and three of his best prints, including the early and atypical etching ``Young Woman in a Tree'' (1903) and his important 1923 lithograph ``The Tightrope Walker.''

But it is Feininger who comes up with the most handsome works in the show. ``Manna-Hata,'' a 1952 oil that combines elements of his early, somewhat cartoonlike approach with his later, more lyrical efforts, stands out for its elegance and carefully calculated style. ``Ship and Red Sun'' (1924) is another strong canvas, as is his 1912 ``Dorf Alt-Sallenthin.''

When the last word on 20th-century art is written, Feininger may not end up in the first rank, but his paintings, watercolors, and prints will always - as they prove once again here - add grace and charm to an era where those qualities were in short supply.

Unfortunately, shows like this seldom get reviewed, because they're not considered newsworthy. After all, the argument goes, the artists are old hat, and the works are not new. So why waste time on them? I can only cite such considerations as proven worth, and suggest that not all art lovers are exclusively concerned with new trends or the latest hot new prospect for art-world immortality.

At the Lafayette Parke Gallery, 58 East 79th Street, through Nov. 4.

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