Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)

Spanierin mit geschlossenen Augen

Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
Spanierin mit geschlossenen Augen
oil on board laid down on board
26½ x 18 5/8 in. (67.3 x 47.3 cm.)
Painted circa 1913
Acquired by the present owner, circa 1959.
C. Weiler, Alexej Jawlensky, Cologne, 1959, p. 239, no. 164 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
M. Jawlensky, L. Pieroni-Jawlensky and A. Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky: Catalogue raisonné of the Oil Paintings, London, 1991, vol. I, p. 459, no. 591 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions given).

Lot Essay

Spanierin mit geschlossenen Augen belongs to the brief yet dynamic period of creative activity that started with Jawlensky's stylistic epiphany on the Baltic coast in 1911 and ended with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Describing these years in his memoirs, the painter recalled, "I painted large figure paintings in powerful, glowing colors and not at all naturalistic or objective. I used a great deal of red, blue, orange, yellow, and chromium-oxide green. My forms were strongly contoured and came with tremendous power from an inner ecstasy" (quoted in C. Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads Faces Meditations, New York, 1971, p 98).

During these years, Jawlensky produced many portraits of figures dressed colorfully or in exotic attire. Between 1907 and 1913, the year the present work was painted, he executed seven paintings of Spanish women. His fascination with cultural types crossed a spectrum of identities, including Barbarian Princess, 1912 (Pieroni, 447; Hagen, Osthaus Museum), Byzantine Woman, 1913 (Pieroni, 582; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris), Sicilian Woman with Blue Shawl, 1913 (Pieroni, 594; Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia), and Creole Woman, 1913 (Pieroni, 579; private collection, Switzerland). Each of these works features a simplified, long face with large eyes set in a rectangular, portrait-like format, which reveals the influence of Russian icons and folk art on the Russian-born painter.

The present painting reflects a widespread vogue for Spanish themes that Jawlensky likely encountered through his close contact with the Fauves in Paris. For most of the 19th century, an orientalist fantasy of Spanish culture pervaded French music, literature and theater, producing notable works such as Manet's Mademoiselle V in the Costume of an Espada, 1862 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and Young Woman Reclining in Spanish Costume, 1862-63 (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven). By the early twentieth century, the idea of an exotic and colorful Iberian culture had carried over into works by Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck and their colleagues, which Jawlensky saw when he exhibited six paintings at the Salon d'Automne in 1905. Indeed, the expressive color, dark outlines, and decorative flowers in the present painting reflect Matisse's Spanish Woman with a Tambourine, 1909 (fig. 1; Pushkin Museum, Moscow). Moreover, Kees van Dongen provoked a highly publicized scandal at the Salon d'automne in 1913 with his painting The Spanish Shawl (Woman with Pigeons), which was deemed obscene and removed by order of the police.

The present work is one of two raven-haired female heads with a light blue veil and peony-like pink and red flowers that Jawlensky painted in 1913. Manola (Pieroni, 589; fig. 2) is a more sharply defined version with wide-open eyes. The model portrayed in these two paintings also appears in a work from the preceding year, Manola with a Violet Veil (Pieroni 507; Kunsthalle, Emden). In contrast to the ethereal, superhuman quality of the present head, Manola depicts a modern, fashionable woman. Together, these two paintings manifest the tension in Jawlensky's approach between the individual characterization of the sitter and the depiction of an artistic type, as the artist pursued an increasingly subjective and visionary style as a vehicle for self-expression. Commenting on this phenomenon, scholar Clemens Weiler has written: "Synthesis, harmony, perfection--these were the guiding stars of Jawlensky's art; he was always striving to find a balance between content and form, between form and color and, last but not least, harmony between the picture and the state of his own psyche" (ibid., p. 11).

Closed eyes are a rare substitute for the confrontational gaze that dominates most of his pre-war heads and portraits, yet they express Jawlensky's meditative approach to art as well as his goal of giving visible form to the unseen experiences of the internal world. The painter declared, "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" (quoted in ibid., p. 105). In the version with open eyes, the figure's veil and flowers have the appearance of observed details. Another painting entitled Spanish Woman from 1913 (Pieroni, 574; fig. 3) utilizes prominent red flowers and a black mantilla to emphasize cultural identity. In contrast, the gauzy veil of the present head appears as a halo of introspection. The icy blue surrounds her head in a luminous shimmer of bright color that conveys a rapt quality found in Byzantine mosaics. The irregular brush strokes heighten this emotional intensity. Here, the painter's application of expressive color and form as independent pictorial elements dovetails with his use of the human face to convey spiritual values. Jawlensky regarded color as the primary means to achieve profound expression. "My temperament having led me to color," he wrote, "it is this that I entrust with the task of reproducing my ideas and emotions as inspired by the nature I find around me" (quoted in ibid.).

Jawlensky's penchant for painting costumed figures in this period may also relate to his contact with the expatriate Russian modern dancer, Alexander Sacharoff and his wife, Clotilde von Derp. Seeking out the experimental, intellectual climate that had attracted Jawlensky to Munich at the turn of the century, Sacharoff joined the Neue Künstlervereinigung (New Artist's Association) that Jawlensky, Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter, Marianne von Werefkin and others founded in 1909. The members of this group, many of whom later formed the Blaue Reiter, enthusiastically greeted his sensual and androgynous approach to dance as an expression of the self. Posing with the von Jawlenskys in a group photo from a fancy dress ball in 1913 (fig. 4), Clotilde von Derp appears in a Spanish costume complete with shawl, fan, and veil, while Sacharoff wears an elaborate sash and white turban with a large black feather. The exotic costumes from the couple's performances also became the subject of numerous paintings and drawings by Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin. As Jawlensky recalled in 1937: "In those days we were always together and he visited us almost every day. We discussed his entire training together. I always watched how he danced. He also knew and understood my art very well" (quoted in Weiler, op.cit., p.106).

(fig. 1) Henri Matisse, Spanish Woman with a Tambourine, 1909. Pushkin Museum, Moscow. BARCODE 26007489
(fig. 2) Alexej von Jawlensky, Manola, 1913. Private collection. BARCODE 26000565
(fig. 3) Alexej von Jawlensky, Spanish Woman, 1913. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. BARCODE 25010145
(fig. 4) Photo of Alexej and Helene von Jawlensky with Clotilde von Derp, Marianne von Werefkin, and Alexander Sacharoff in Munich, 1913-1914. BARCODE 26000572

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