The Alexej von Jawlensky Archives have confirmed the authenticity of this painting and will include it in the forthcoming supplement to the catalogue raisonné.
In 1918, Jawlensky commenced his series of Abstract Heads while working on the Mystical Heads and Savior's Faces. The impetus for these frontal, stylized heads was a drawing that the painter entitled Archetype (fig. 1). This initial rendition of the schematized face became the paradigm to which Jawlensky time and again returned in his quest to achieve a level of absolute harmony in his paintings. In a few clear lines, Archetype captures the abstracted u-shaped jaw, long, vertical nose, straight mouth, and closed eyes that define these works, which are also known as Constructivist Heads due to their structural black lines and interlocking planes of color. The pursuit of an ideal and infinitely expressive type was a goal that Jawlensky shared with other artists of his time, such as Franz Marc, Paul Klee, and Oskar Schlemmer; each sought to convey a world of unseen, metaphysical forms that they believed underlay the visible sphere of objective reality. For Jawlensky, this quest could only be achieved with the human face. The painter noted: "For me the face is not just a face but the whole universe. In the face the whole universe becomes manifest" (quoted in C. Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads Faces Meditations, New York, 1971, p. 17).
The present painting is notable for the exceptionally fine and feathery brushwork that is particularly visible in the right jaw. Although the fundamental lines of the Abstract Heads appear fixed and almost schematic, Jawlensky built up the picture surface in stages of small touches of paint that create unique gradations of modulated color. Commenting on the artist's working process, Clemens Weiler has noted: "The element of variation, which was to characterize his art to an increasing extent in the future, was closely bound up with the meditative attitude with which he approached the art of creation. each picture, each conception was built up afresh from new beginnings to develop a particular possibility. Jawlensky declared on several occasions that before he started painting he would meditate, putting himself in a religious frame of mind which always enabled him to approach his theme of the human face afresh" (ibid.).
Jawlensky regarded serial imagery as a means to fully explore the contemplative, introspective aspects of his work. "I am not so much searching for new forms," he proclaimed, "but I want to go deeper; not to progress in breadth but in depth" (quoted in ibid.). The Russian-born artist began executing variations on a single theme in 1914 and continued this explorative process until his death in 1941. His dedication to the use of deliberately restricted means, and the intensity and universality he drew from them, are only matched in the work of such artists as Piet Mondrian, Josef Albers, or Mark Rothko.
The luminous palette of the present composition is striking, and comes as a final flowering of chromatic richness before the onset of the darker and more somber tonal harmonies that dominate Jawlensky's subsequent Meditations. The painter gave the subtitle Feierlich (Aufsteigend) (Celebratory (Rising)) to the present work, and the rainbow-like arches in the upper portion of the painting certainly underscore the overall sense of jubilation. The bright area of white at the forehead and golden hues also emphasize the idea of spiritual ascension, which reflects Jawlensky's manifest yearning towards the transcendental in his art.
(fig. 1) Alexej von Jawlensky, Archetype, 1918. Private collection, Switzerland. BARCODE 26000558