Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)

Sitzende Frau

Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
Sitzende Frau
signed with the initials 'A.j.' (lower left)
oil on board
27 3/8 x 19 1/4 in. (69.5 x 49 cm.)
Painted circa 1909
The artist's studio.
Otto Henkell, Wiesbaden, until at least 1959.
Anonymous sale, Kunstkabinett, Stuttgart, 3-5 May 1962, lot 175.
Private collection, Europe, by whom acquired at the above sale, and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, London, 2 February 2010, lot 26.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
C. Weiler, Alexej Jawlensky, Cologne, 1959, no. 53, p. 230 (illustrated).
M. Jawlensky, L. Pieroni-Jawlensky & A. Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, vol. I, 1890-1914, London, 1991, no. 235, p. 192 (illustrated p. 198).
Dusseldorf, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Alexej von Jawlensky, September 1957, no. 13; this exhibition later travelled to Bremen, Kunsthalle, December 1957 - January 1958; and Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein, February - March 1958, no. 18.
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Anna Povejsilova
Anna Povejsilova

Lot Essay

In an oeuvre dominated by intense close-ups of the human head, Sitzende Frau is a rare example of a three-quarter-length portrait by Alexej von Jawlensky, a format the artist experimented with for a short period during the years 1909 and 1910. Taking as its focus a female protagonist reclining in a domestic, interior setting, the painting captures the sitter in a quiet moment of repose and contemplation, appearing so completely absorbed in her own thoughts that she is unaware of the artist’s attention. The model carries an air of introspective seriousness, her downcast eyes an unusual substitute for the confrontational gaze that dominated the majority of the artist’s pre-war portraits. A careful distillation of observation and imagination, the painting showcases the numerous influences which shaped Jawlensky’s painting at this stage of his career, from the dramatic colour contrasts of Henri Matisse and the Fauves, to the thick dark outlines of Gauguin, and the broad brushstrokes of Van Gogh. Executed in an arresting palette of complementary greens and reds, with striking, heavy black contours, the painting demonstrates Jawlensky’s dedication to experimentation at this time, as he sought to achieve a delicate synthesis of these multiple sources into a unique, personal artistic vocabulary. 

Jawlensky encountered the contemporary French avant-garde on a sojourn to Paris in 1905 with his long-time companion and patron, Marianne von Werefkin. Here, he was exposed to the art of the Fauves at the Salon d’Automne, where Matisse and André Derain shocked the Parisian art world with their vibrantly coloured canvases and violently expressive brushwork. Jawlensky was particularly inspired by their dynamic chromatic vocabulary, and quickly absorbed their bold approach in his own art, infusing such paintings as Sitzende Frau with a powerful sense of colour that owes a clear debt to Matisse’s portraits from this period. For example, the striking green shadow which covers half of the sitter’s face is reminiscent of Matisse’s use of bold pigmentation in the shadowing of his model’s facial features in such paintings as La Raie verte (Portrait de Madame Matisse) and Femme au chapeau (both 1905). Following Matisse’s example, Jawlensky chose to free colour from its traditionally descriptive role in his painting, pushing the correspondences between form and colour beyond their natural relationships. 

The short, thick brushstrokes which populate the canvas, meanwhile, and the juxtaposition of brighter and cooler tones alongside one another, distinctly reflect the influence of Paul Cézanne on Jawlensky’s art. Sitzende Frau contains particularly strong affinities to the artist’s serene 1887 portrait of his wife, Madame Cézanne dans un fauteuil rouge. Jawlensky’s interest in Cézanne may have been renewed during a second visit to Paris in 1907, where he attended the artist’s retrospective at the Salon d’Automne. Resting her weight against the arm of the chair, the sitter echoes Madame Cézanne’s relaxed pose, and appears similarly introspective. Jawlensky also absorbs the richness of Cézanne’s colours, gently modulating the paint in different sections of the canvas to allow small hints of complementary colour to emerge in the midst of a block of vibrant red or green. However, Jawlensky simplifies his composition, reducing his sitter to the basic outlines of her form and eschewing Cézanne’s focus on texture and pattern. In so doing, Jawlensky pushes the colour juxtapositions to new extremes, heightening the effect of their contrasts and intensifying their visual impact, as he sought to emphasise the expressive power of colour in his painting. To assist him in this endeavour, Jawlensky anonymises his sitter, removing traces of her individuality and expunging the idiosyncrasies of her appearance from the painting to create a more generalised character. This effect is further accentuated by the artist’s choice of title for the painting, Sitzende Frau. By not naming the woman in the portrait, the artist ensures that the viewer does not become distracted by the personality of the sitter, allowing her to become a vehicle for the artist’s own experimentations with expressing his inner subjective vision of the world.

1909 was an integral year in Jawlensky’s artistic development, marked by a period of intense creativity and continuous experimentation in his painting. He had spent the previous summer in the small, sleepy market town of Murnau, nestled in the shadows of the Bavarian Alps, with Werefkin and their close friends, Wassily Kandinsky, and Gabriele Münter. Here, the four artists discussed the theoretical bases of their art and experimented with each other’s techniques, often working together in a communal manner, frequently painting the same scenes from different viewpoints. It was Jawlensky who took the lead in guiding the quartet’s evolution at this time, with both Münter and Kandinsky portraying him as the group’s mentor in their memoirs. This artistic dialogue and the painter’s activities in Murnau ushered in a phase of prolific productivity for Jawlensky, as he began to reach new levels of innovation in his approach to colour. Progressing beyond his French counterparts, Jawlensky forged a more subjective and emotional response to colour in his art, in which the powers of expression inherent in complementary and opposing tones were strongly related to symbolic and spiritual sources. 

Jawlensky was one of a number of artists living and working in Munich who believed in the capacity of art to convey a spiritual message – Kandinsky, Münter, Franz Marc, and August Macke all spoke with missionary zeal regarding their aims to render visible a sense of the spiritual truths of the universe in their art, which they believed could counteract the corruption and materialism of the age. Jawlensky explained, ‘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’ (Jawlensky, quoted in C. Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads Faces Meditations, New York, 1971, p. 98). For Jawlensky, colour played an integral role in this search for the spiritual, leading him to use the expressive power of the relationships between different tones and shades to evoke a subjective response to the world. This common search for the spiritual inspired a new sense of community amongst these artists, and encouraged them to seek opportunities to exhibit alongside one another. To this end, Jawlensky, Werefkin, Kandinsky and Münter were among the founding members of the artist’s associaiton Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM), a group formed in January 1909, which would pave the way for the establishment of the ground-breaking Der Blaue Reiter group two years later.

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