Alexej von Jawlensky (Russian, Torzhok, Russia 1864 - 1941 Wiesbaden, Germany)
Head of a Woman, ca. 1912
Signed lower right: a. jawlensky
Oil on composition board
21 x 19 1/8 in. (53.4 x 48.5 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1955
One of Jawlensky's earliest mature works, Head of a Woman marks the beginning of the artist's lifelong experimentation with the "open series," or meditative variations on the theme of the human face or head. The glowing colors of this portrait show the influence of the Fauves, while the heavy, dark outlines recall the work of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903).
Jawlensky spent the summer of 1911 on the Baltic in Prerow (Pomerania). In 1937 he recalled this period:1
"This summer meant for me a great development in my art. There I painted my best landscapes and large figural works, like "Der Buckel" (The Hunchback) in very strong, glowing colors and not at all naturalistic or objective. I used a great deal of red, blue, orange, cadmium yellow and chromium oxide green. My forms were very strongly colored in Prussian blue and came with tremendous power from an inner ecstasy.... It was a turning point in my art. It was in these years, up to 1914 just before the war, that I painted my most powerful works."
In addition to a series of landscapes, Jawlensky also created a series of square-format portraits during 1911 and 1912.2 A comparison of the Oberlin portrait with others from the same period proves that the sitter--formerly identified incorrectly as Mme. Sakaroff--was in fact his assistant Hélène Nesnakomoff, who had given birth to their son in 1902, and whom he married in 1921, after separating from his long-time companion Marianne von Werefkin.3
In the group of portraits from 1911-12, Jawlensky abandoned the decorative detail of his earlier portraits in favor of more generalized features, and eliminated the temporal and the accidental as well. Influenced by Gauguin's Cloisonnisme,4 he outlined the features heavily with thick black brushstrokes, which intensify the already strong, saturated colors and transform the face of an individual into an iconic form.
Jawlensky achieved a synthesis of emotionality and sublimation, of sensuality and abstraction in these portraits.5 The fixed, almost atavistic stare and the strong Byzantine outlining are relieved by short spontaneous brushstrokes, which provide shading and modeling.
The Oberlin portrait and others of this period mark the beginning of Jawlensky's search for the archetype: the "Gesichter" (faces) become "Gesichte" (visions), or as Klee formulated, "Vom Vorbildlichen zum Urbildlichen" (from the exemplary to the archetypal).6 In Jawlensky's later works, the open-ended serial process took on "a mystical-religious sense" and became an end in itself. As explained by Katharina Schmidt, the works in his "open series" did not appear planned or oriented towards a certain goal, but represented a questioning and meditative circling around the subject of the human face. The increasing abstraction was in part the result of the crippling of his hands by arthritis.7
Work (C) 1998 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kust, Bonn
Born on 26 March 1864, Jawlensky grew up in White Russia and was educated for a military career in Moscow, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant. Denied permission to attend the Art Academy simultaneously with his military training, Jawlensky transferred to St. Petersburg in 1889, where he studied with Il'ja Repin (1844-1930). In 1891 he met Marianne von Werefkin (1860-1938), a Realist painter who became his companion until 1921. In 1896 they moved to Munich, where Jawlensky met Kandinsky. In the summers Jawlensky traveled throughout Europe with Werefkin, and a young assistant Hélène Nesnakomoff. The artist encountered a wide variety of emerging art practices and artistic theories, including the paintings of Van Gogh and Gauguin in Paris, and the mystical theories of the Nabis. The summers of 1908 and 1909 were spent in Murnau with Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter, with whom Jawlensky founded the Neue Künstlervereinigung München. The years 1911 and 1912 were especially productive, and his landscapes and portraits were exhibited with works by Paul Klee and Franz Marc (1880-1916) at the Blaue Reiter exhibitions. In or after 1914, Jawlensky was forced to emigrate from Russia to St. Prex on Lake Geneva, where he painted Variations, an increasingly abstract series of views from his window. In 1916 the artist met Emmy Scheyer, whom he used as a model for his Mystical Heads (1917-19). That series of paintings, along with the Savior's Faces of 1918-20 and the Constructivist (or Abstract) Heads of 1921-35, includes some of Jawlenksy's best known works.
Jawlensky settled in Wiesbaden in 1921, the year of a successful exhibition arranged in that city by Galka Scheyer. In 1922 he married Hélène Nesnakomoff, and began a professional collaboration with their son Andreas. Crippled by arthritis by 1929, Jawlensky sought relief in Bad Wörishofen and developed new, small-format "meditations" which he alternated with large-format still lifes of flowers. In 1933 Jawlensky was forbidden by the National Socialists to exhibit his work in Germany. His paintings in public collections were confiscated in 1937 and two were included in Hitler's Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition held in Munich. After 1938 Jawlensky was completely paralyzed; he died on 15 March 1941 in Wiesbaden.
For a detailed biography, see Armin Zweite, ed., Alexej Jawlensky 1864-1941 (exh. cat., Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, 1983), pp. 14-23.
Jawlensky, Maria, Lucia Pieroni Jawlensky, and Angelica Jawlensky. Alexej von Jawlensky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings 1890-1941. London, 1991.
Mochoh, Anne. Alexej Jawlensky: From Appearance to Essence. Exh. cat., Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, Calif., 1991.
Collection Fernand Graindorge, Liège (1954)
With Theodore Schempp, New York, from whom purchased in 1955
Eindhoven, Stedelijk Van Abbe Museum, 1954. Collection Graindorge. Cat. no. 20.
Basel, Kunsthalle, 1954. Collection Fernand Graindorge. 28 August - 3 October. Cat. no. 51.
Kenwood, London County Council, 1962. An American University Collection: Works of Art from the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio. 3 May - 30 October. Cat. no. 25.
Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, 1983. Alexej Jawlensky 1864-1941. 23 February - 17 April (also shown at Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle). Cat. no. 89.
Hamilton, Chloe. "Catalogue of R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund Acquisitions." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 2 (Winter 1959), cat. no. 26 (as Portrait of Madame Sakaroff); no. 3 (Spring 1959), ill. p. 273.
Weiler, Clemens. Alexej Jawlensky. Cologne, 1959, p. 233, no. 100, ill.
Stechow, Wolfgang. European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, p. 88, fig. 118.
Jawlensky, Maria, Lucia Pieroni Jawlensky, and Angelica Jawlensky. Alexej von Jawlensky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings. Vol. 1. Portraits 1890-1914. London, 1991, p. 392, no. 495.
The support is a thinly sized composition board with canvas-weave texture on the verso and slight canvas texture on the recto. The paint surface is thin to moderate with low impasto. The preliminary outlines, many of which remain visible, were painted with a thin, fluid black paint. The thicker paint was quickly applied and modeled wet-in-wet. The surface of the composition board shows through in several areas. Much of the paint was applied in a vigorous wave pattern. The support is stable, although there is a slight concave warp that does not interfere with the legibility of the composition. There are small old losses in the top corners. The painting is not varnished.
1. Alexej von Jawlensky, "Memoir dictated to Lisa Kümmel, 1937," in Maria Jawlensky, Lucia Pieroni Jawlensky, and Angelica Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, vol. 1, Portraits 1890-1914 (London, 1991), p. 31.
2. Maria Jawlensky, Lucia Pieroni Jawlensky, and Angelica Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, vol. 1, Portraits 1890-1914 (London, 1991), nos. 382-531. See also Clemens Weiler, Alexej Jawlensky (Cologne, 1959), nos. 74-124.
3. The Oberlin portrait is identified as Hélène in Maria Jawlensky, Lucia Pieroni Jawlensky, and Angelica Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, vol. 1, Portraits 1890-1914 (London, 1991), p. 392, no. 495. Among other portraits identified as Hélène are Frau mit grünem Fächer (Lady with Green Face), 1912, collection Mr. and Mrs. Prescott N. Dunbar, New Orleans; and Mädchenkopf (Head of a Girl), 1912, private collection; reproduced in Maria Jawlensky, Lucia Pieroni Jawlensky, and Angelica Jawlensky, op. cit., nos. 471 and 469, respectively. Chloe Hamilton identified the painting as Mme. Sakaroff in "Catalogue of R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund Acquisitions," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 2 (Winter 1959), p. 69, no. 26. Wolfgang Stechow (European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College [Oberlin, 1967], p. 88) termed this identification incorrect, but did not provide another.
4. Jawlensky must have seen Gauguin's work in Paris, where he summered. According to Barry Herbert (German Expressionsm: Der Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter [London, 1983], p. 119), Jawlensky learned Cloissonisme through his friendship with Jan Verlende, a Dutch painter who had worked with Gauguin followers at Pont-Aven.
5. Armin Zweite, "Jawlensky in München," in Alexej Jawlensky (exh. cat., Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, 1983), p. 63.
6. Paul Klee, Das bildnerische Denken (Basel, 1956), p. 93.
7. Katharina Schmidt, "Das Prinzip der offenen Serie," in Alexej Jawlensky (exh. cat., Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, 1983), p. 101.