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Marianne Von Werefkin (1870-1938)
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN FAMILY COLLECTION
Marianne Von Werefkin (1870-1938)

Ameisenhaufen

Details
Marianne Von Werefkin (1870-1938)
Ameisenhaufen
oil and tempera on paper laid down on board
17 1/4 x 18 1/2 in. (43.8 x 46.9 cm.)
Painted circa 1916
Provenance
Galleria Castelnuovo, Ascona.
Private collection, acquired from the above in October 1972 and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, London, 19 June 2013, lot 374.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owners.
Exhibited
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Ausstellung, February - March 1921, no. 171, p. 17.

Brought to you by

Veronica Scarpati
Veronica Scarpati

Lot Essay

Marianne von Werefkin was one of the most remarkable women working at the centre of Munich’s avant-garde circle during a period of rapid change and intense creativity at the turn of the twentieth century. Born in the Russian town of Tula near Moscow in 1860, she studied art under the private tutelage of Ilya Repin. It was there that she met Alexej von Jawlensky in 1891, with whom her relationship as mentor, patron and companion would last until 1921. The couple moved to Munich in 1896, at which point Werefkin gave up painting for almost a decade in order to devote herself entirely to the development and promotion of Jawlensky’s talents. During this time, however, she played a decisive role in the Munich art scene as hostess of a salon on Giselastrasse, where she commanded the room of artists, writers, dancers, progressive thinkers and Russian émigrés who were attracted there.

After almost twelve months touring France with Jawlensky, Werefkin returned to painting in early 1907. The couple formed a close friendship with Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter, which led to the founding of a secessionist group called the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Association of Artists in Munich, NKVM) in 1909. The group’s spiritualist principles were founded on a desire to synthesise the impressions projected on the artist by the external world and the personal experience of this collected by the artist. The NVKM paved the way for the Blaue Reiter group, which would be created in 1911 in rejection of the former group by renegade members. Marianne von Werefkin, adhering artistically to Symbolism whilst belonging to the inner circle of the developing group, was the only artist close to the Blaue Reiter circle whose work focused on social issues and the world of human labour and factory work, and her figurative work became her defining point.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Werefkin and Jawlensky left for Switzerland, settling first in St. Prex, where the present lot was likely painted, and later moving to Zurich. Previously known for her Realist approach, Werefkin’s return to painting saw her drawing inspirations from Symbolism, Van Gogh, Gauguin, the Nabis, Edvard Munch and Ferdinand Hodler. Her painting from this period is characterised by its bold simplification, flattened spatial perspective and strong use of colour. The tragedy of the war also inscribed in her paintings apocalyptic undertones and the anguish of a world given over to devastation. The great underlying theme of her oeuvre is the transience of human existence at the mercy of external forces in nature and the internal force of human nature. In Ameisenhaufen, the landscape is filled with tension, an extension of the plight of the workers, who are dominated by their surroundings. The simple figurative forms are delineated by strong black contours which flatten them against the background; the juxtaposition of flattened figures and the vibrant, complementary colours and expressive brushstrokes of the fields serves to heighten the sense of being engulfed by the landscape. The use of non-naturalistic colours shows a concern shared by Werefkin and other Symbolists to emancipate colour from its descriptive role in painting, fusing the external world with the artist’s subjective perception of it. In doing so, Werefkin deepens the personal, human connection which permeates her work.

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