The Alexej von Jawlensky Archives will include this painting in the forthcoming supplement to the catalogue raisonné with a revised date of 1910.
Odalyske is exceptionally rare and important. Only a handful of nudes by Jawlensky are extant, arguably none of comparable scale and accomplishment to the present work. When it was first published by Clemens Weiler in his authoritative monograph of 1959 (op. cit.), Odalyske was ascribed a dating of 1911. However, recent research at the Alexej von Jawlensky Archives has suggested an amended date of 1910. This would place the work among the short series of studio nudes executed in the same year (M. Jawlensky, L. Pieroni-Jawlensky and A. Jawlensky, nos. 334-339), the best known of which is the Sitzender weiblicher Akt in the collection of the Lenbachhaus, Munich (fig. 1).
Although Odalyske reflects Jawlensky's close ties to German Expressionism--its affinities with the contemporary Dresden studio pictures of the Brücke arts, for instance, are startling (see fig. 2)--it also manifests the enduring legacy of the diverse range of artists, techniques, and artistic theories that informed his painting during the formative years of his career. Having moved to Munich from his native Moscow to study art, the Russian-born painter traveled throughout Europe in the first years of the 20th century with his companion and patron, the Baroness Marianne von Werefkin. Jawlensky encountered a wide range of emerging art practices and theories during these trips. His first visits to Paris, for example, familiarized him with the symbolic and expressive color of van Gogh and Gauguin. Jawlensky noted in his memoirs that Gauguin's Cavaliers sur la plage, 1902 taught him "a great many new things" (quoted in C. Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads Faces Meditations, New York, 1971, p. 98). Jawlensky also painted numerous figure studies and landscapes during the next two years in response to the Dutch artist's high-keyed palette and rhythmic brushstrokes.
The vibrant brushwork of the present work captures the spontaneity and roughness of a rapidly executed sketch, yet, like Matisse's Fauvist canvases, it is a careful distillation of observation and imagination. In 1905, Jawlensky exhibited six paintings at the Salon d'Automne in Paris, the infamous exhibition during which a critic branded Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck and their colleagues Fauves ("wild beasts"). The zones of expressive color that Matisse liberated from descriptive function in works such as La femme au chapeau, 1905 the scandal of this show, and later in his Portrait de Madame Matisse (La Raie verte), 1905 reappear with a Germanic sensibility in Jawlensky's use of non-naturalistic, complementary colors and heavy, dark outlines. Like Matisse, Jawlensky utilized the forms of the objective world as a structure for color and an opportunity to explore the essential character of things. Jawlensky commented on this quest in a letter from 1905: "To reproduce these things that are there without being, to reveal them to others by allowing them to pass through my sympathetic understanding, by making them apparent through the passion which I feel for them--that is the goal of my life as an artist. Apples, trees, human faces are for me only suggestions to see something else in them--the life of color, seized with a lover's passion" (ibid., p.105).
When Jawlensky returned to Paris in 1907 to work in Matisse's studio, he established contact with Jan Verkade and Paul Sérusier, who introduced the painter to the spiritualist, theosophical, and mystical side of the Nabi movement. The Nabis devoted themselves to exploring feeling and emotion, using devices such as heavily decorative borders to enclose the subject of their works and thus mark it as an expression of the artist's vision. Their ideas struck a responsive chord in Jawlensky, who also sought to incorporate his subjective responses into his emerging style. Matisse also articulated his desire to express something eternal and universal through the human form in his Notes on a Painter, which was immediately translated into German and Russian when it appeared in 1908. Discussing the transition from individual model to artistic archetype, Matisse wrote: "What interests me most is neither still life nor landscape, but the human figure. It is that which best permits me to express my almost religious awe towards life. I do not insist upon all the details of the face, on setting them down one-by-one with anatomical exactitude. I discover [the model's] essential qualities, I penetrate amid the lines of the face those which suggest the deep gravity which persists in every human being. A work of art must carry within itself its complete significance and impose that upon the beholder even before he recognizes the subject matter" (quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, p. 42).
In the same year that Matisse published his treatise on painting, Jawlensky renewed his friendship with fellow Russian ex-patriot Wassily Kandinsky. In the summers of 1908 and 1909, Jawlensky and Werefkin visited Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter at her house in Murnau. Painting landscapes of the surrounding Bavarian countryside such as Münter's Jawlensky und Werefkin, 1908-1909 (fig. 3), the four friends discussed the theoretical bases of their art and experimented with each other's techniques. During this period, Jawlensky also absorbed the angularity and schematic forms of the woodcut technique that Kandinsky had incorporated into his own repertoire (fig. 4).
Jawlensky, Werefkin, Kandinsky, and Münter followed these productive sojourns by founding a secessionist group called the Neue
Künstlervereinigung (New Artist's Association) in Munich. Kandinsky captured the spiritualist agenda of this group in the catalogue to its inaugural exhibition in December of 1909 when he declared, "We proceed from the belief that the artist, apart from the impressions he receives from the external world, Nature, continually collects experience within an inner world. We search for artistic forms that reveal the penetration of these collected experiences, for forms that must be freed from all irrelevance, in order to forcefully express that which is essential, in short, for artistic synthesis" (quoted in R.-C. Washton Long, German Expressionism, New York, 1993, p. 39).
(fig. 1) Alexej von Jawlensky, Sitzender weiblicher Akt, 1910. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich.
(fig. 2) Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Sitzender Akt auf orangem Tuch, 1909. Folkwang Museum, Essen.
(fig. 3) Gabriele Münter, Jawlensky and Werefkin, 1909. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich.