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

Abstrakter Kopf: Ostern

Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
Abstrakter Kopf: Ostern
signed with the initials 'A.J.' (lower left); dated '33.' (lower right); signed, dated and numbered 'A. Jawlensky 1933 N.83.' (on the reverse)
oil on board
16 7/8 x 13 in. (42.8 x 33 cm.)
Painted in 1933
Emmy 'Galka' Scheyer, Hollywood, by whom acquired from the artist in July 1933; Compulsory Estate Sale, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Alien Property, Los Angeles, 29 September 1954, lot 4.
Felix Landau Gallery, Los Angeles.
J.B. Neumann Galleries, New York.
World House Galleries, New York.
Private collection, California.
Leonard Hutton Galleries, New York, by 1984.
Private collection, United States; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 16 November 1989, lot 357.
Private collection, Germany, by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Christie's, London, 7 February 2005, lot 52.
Private collection, London, by whom acquired at the above sale and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, London, 2 February 2010, lot 42.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
The artist's Cahier Noir, p. 20 (with the note that it was sent to Galka Scheyer in July 1933).
M. Brenson, 'Art: A View of the Blue Four and Expressionism', in The New York Times, 20 April 1984 (illustrated p. C25).
M. Jawlensky, L. Pieroni-Jawlensky & A. Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, vol. II, 1914-1933, London, 1992, no. 1434, pp. 488-489 (illustrated p. 499).
Los Angeles Museum, The Blue Four, October 1933, possibly no. 77.
New York, Leonard Hutton Galleries, The Blue Four: Feininger, Jawlensky, Kandinsky, Paul Klee, March - May 1984, no. 32, p. 76 (illustrated p. 42).
Museum Wiesbaden, Alexej von Jawlensky zum 50. Todesjahr, Gemälde und graphische Arbeiten, May - August 1991, no. 130, p. 221.
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Alexej von Jawlensky, March - June 1992, no. 104 (illustrated p. 116); this exhibition later travelled to Barcelona, Museu Picasso, June - September 1992.
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Anna Povejsilova
Anna Povejsilova

Lot Essay

Painted in 1933, Abstrakter Kopf: Ostern is one of the pictures that Alexej von Jawlensky sent to Emmy 'Galka' Scheyer, his great disciple and advocate who promoted his works in the United States after the First World War, together with those of Kandinsky, Feininger and Klee, uniting these artists under the banner of the 'Blue Four' and celebrating their works in a series of exhibitions. It is probable that Abstrakter Kopf: Ostern was itself unnumbered amongst the works shown in one of these exhibitions in Los Angeles in 1933, the same year that Germany declared Jawlensky's art to be 'degenerate.'

In the memoir he dictated to another female artist and devotee to his works, Lisa Kümmel, Jawlensky recalled: 'On a visit to Lausanne in 1916 I met Emmy Scheyer. She came from Brussels and was herself a painter (Impressionist). A few days later she came to see us at Saint-Prex. There she saw my Hunchback and my 'Variations' and was so enthusiastic about them that she wanted to give up painting herself and dedicate herself to my art. 'Why should I go on painting when I know I can't produce such good art as you?' she asked. 'It's better that I should dedicate myself to your art and explain it to others.' And indeed ever since that time she has occupied herself with my art with great understanding' (Jawlensky, quoted in 'Memoir dictated to Lisa Kümmel, Wiesbaden, 1937', pp. 25-33 in M. Jawlensky, L. Pieroni-Jawlensky & A. Jawlensky, eds., op. cit., vol. I, 1890-1914, London, 1991, p. 32).

Jawlensky's abstract heads are a form of modern religious icon. These are objects for focus and contemplation. As Jawlensky himself explained, 'My art is simply a meditation or prayer in colour' (Jawlensky, quoted in C. Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads, Faces, Meditations, London, 1971, p. 64). Nowhere is this more true than in his stylised heads such as Abstrakter Kopf: Ostern, in which the act of painting, taking a similar template and using a range of nuances and variations on the same theme, is an act of meditation on the part of the artist. At the same time, their semi-abstraction recalls the icons of his native Russia. In a letter written to the painter, monk and member of the Nabis, Pater Willibrod Verkade, Jawlensky explained the genesis of these abstract heads: 'I had come to understand that great art can only be painted with religious feeling. And that I could only bring to the human face. I understood that the artist must express through his art, in forms and colours, the divine inside him. Therefore a work of art is God made visible, and art is a 'longing for God'. I have painted 'Faces' for many years. I sat in my studio and painted, and did not need Nature as a prompter. I only had to immerse myself in myself, pray, and prepare my soul to a state of religious awareness. I painted many 'Faces'. Their size too is only 32 x 42. They are technically very perfect, and radiate spirituality' (Jawlensky, letter to Pater Willlibrord Verkade, quoted in Jawlensky, Pieroni-Jawlensky & Jawlensky, op. cit., 1991, p. 34).

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