Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF GRETA GARBOIn the history of cinema, few individuals remain as enigmatic and iconic as the actress Greta Garbo. “Of all the stars who have ever fired the imaginations of audiences,” film historian Ephraim Katz wrote, “none has quite projected a magnetism and a mystique equal to [hers].”Born in Sweden in 1905, Greta Garbo was a shy, imaginative young woman who studied at Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre acting school. In 1924, she appeared in her first film, the Swedish-produced Saga of Gosta Berling. After being ‘discovered’ by MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer, Garbo relocated to Hollywood, and in 1926 released her first American picture, The Torrent. An instant commercial success, the actress would be deemed “the greatest money-making machine ever put on screen,” and later won an honorary Academy Award for her “luminous and unforgettable” performances. Garbo’s mastery of her craft—spellbinding in its subtlety of expression—left an indelible mark on audiences and critics alike.“Garbo still belongs to that moment in cinema,” philosopher Roland Barthes observed, “when capturing the human face plunged audiences into the deepest ecstasy, when one literally lost oneself in a human image....” In films such as Flesh and the Devil (1926) to her first ‘talking’ picture, Anna Christie (1930), filmgoers were enraptured by the actress’s signature persona of graceful world-weariness. In just twenty-eight films across sixteen years, Garbo managed to solidify her place as one of the twentieth century’s greatest talents. “She would move her head just a little bit,” director George Cukor enthused, “and the whole screen would come alive, like a strong breeze that made itself felt.” Fellow actress Bette Davis described Garbo’s performances as “pure witchcraft.”Much of the public’s fascination with Garbo stemmed from the actress’s successful evasion of the Hollywood publicity machine. From her earliest years in film to her death in 1990, Garbo granted few interviews, declined to sign autographs, and avoided public functions such as the Academy Awards. After retiring from cinema at just thirty-five years old, the actress transitioned to a life dedicated to fine art, scholarship, and the many friends she held dear. From the 1940s, Garbo began to assemble a remarkable private collection of painting, sculpture, works on paper, and decorative art. For those fortunate enough to be welcomed into the actress’s wood-paneled Manhattan residence, the ‘real’ Garbo would be revealed: a vivacious, quick-witted woman who lived each day surrounded by beauty.Through both personal erudition and friendships with luminaries such as Albert Barnes and Alfred Barr, Garbo steadily acquired works by artists including Robert Delaunay, Chaïm Soutine, and Alexej von Jawlensky. Dynamically composed in brilliant hues, the collection was largely hidden from public view—a treasure to be absorbed through intimate contemplation and conversation. Garbo’s grandniece, Gray Reisfield Horan, recalled her aunt’s profound love for the collection. “What are they talking about?” she would ask visitors about the pictures. “What do they say to each other?” It was a tremendously personal assemblage, one the actress arranged and re-hung with each new purchase. Horan described the image Garbo sitting each night in front of her favorite paintings, “enjoying her evening scotch and a Nat Sherman cigarettello... held so elegantly with her gemstone encrusted Van Cleef & Arpels holder.”In many ways, the collection both reflected and rebutted Garbo’s illustrious career: suffused with undeniable visual power, its boldness of color stood in contrast with the argent mystique of early Hollywood. “Color,” Horan recalled of her aunt’s acquisitions, “was always the essential component.... The works meshed and flowed in a wondrous explosion of enveloping hues.... Nothing was black and white.” Garbo herself, mesmerized by Delaunay’s vibrant La femme à l’ombrelle, would often remark of the canvas, “It makes a dour Swede happy.” If Garbo managed to enchant audiences via movement and gaze, so did the artists in her collection similarly capture the viewer through their pioneering use of brushwork and palette. “Color,” she enthused, “is just the starting point. There is so much more.”In fine art, Greta Garbo found a means of expression that continued long after her final appearance on the silver screen. Whether in the actress’s legendary cinematic career or her more private world of spirited connoisseurship, Garbo enjoyed a truly remarkable life—an elegant vision entirely her own. “You just have to look, and look, and look,” she declared. “That way, when you see something extraordinary, you just know.”PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF GRETA GARBO
Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)

Das blasse Mädchen mit grauen Zopfen

Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
Das blasse Mädchen mit grauen Zopfen
signed ‘A. Jawlensky’ (lower left) and signed again 'A. Jawlensky' (upper left)
oil over pencil on linen-finish paper laid down on masonite
25 x 19 ½ in. (63.5 x 49.5 cm.)
Painted circa 1916
Estate of the artist.
Andreas Jawlensky (by descent from the above).
Galerie Aenne Abels, Cologne (probably acquired from the above, by 1958).
Acquired by the late owner, circa 1970.
M. Jawlensky, L. Pieroni-Jawlensky and A. Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, 1914-1933, Bonn, 1992, vol. 2, p. 113, no. 733 (illustrated).
Cologne, Galerie Aenne Abels, A. Jawlensky, May 1958, no. 13 (illustrated).
Bonn, Städtischen Kunstsammlungen, Gemälde von Alexej von Jawlensky, Gemälde und Zeichnungen von Adolf Hölzel, September-October 1958, no. 33.
Berlin, Haus am Waldsee, Alexej von Jawlensky, November-December 1958, no. 40 (illustrated).
Sale room notice
Please note that this work is displayed with a loaner frame for the exhibition, which is available for purchase.

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Jessica Fertig
Jessica Fertig

Lot Essay

Once the German declaration of hostilities against Russia was announced on 1 August 1914, igniting the First World War, Alexej von Jawlensky–Russian-born and once a junior officer in the Czar’s army—was given forty-eight hours to abandon his home in Munich and leave his adopted land, having lived and painted there for almost two decades. He, his family, and close friend the painter Marianne von Werefkin, also Russian, taking only what they could carry, arrived on 3 August in Lindau on Lake Constance to board a Swiss ferry that would transport them into exile. Under military escort, enduring jeers from townspeople along the way, they left Germany.
This devastating turn in fortune, the humiliation of the experience, and moreover the ensuing tragedy of pan-European war and the revolution in Russia, altered the course of Jawlensky’s life and art. In Das blasse Mädchen mit grauen Zopfen (“The Pale Girl with Gray Braids”), the artist continued his signature, pre-war series of expressive women’s heads, while contemplating a more introspective and spiritual sense of the world, and the nature of his response to the chaos into which it had descended.
Jawlensky and his family circle resettled in the lakeside village of Saint-Prex. “It was very tiny, our house, and I had no room of my own, only a window which I could call mine,” he later reminisced. “I tried to continue painting as I had in Munich, but something inside me would not allow me to go on with those colorful, powerful, sensual works. My soul had undergone a change as the result of so much suffering... I had to discover different forms and colors to express what my soul felt” (quoted in Alexei von Jawlensky, exh. cat., Neue Galerie, New York, 2017, p. 51).
Using his window as a frame, Jawlensky painted during late 1914-1916 some 150 “Variations on a landscape theme.” The artist employed for the first time in his work a serial procedure, such as Robert Delaunay had done in his pre-war Fenêtres sur la ville paintings, one of which Jawlensky owned. In these “songs without words,” as Jawlensky called them, stemming from deep inner necessity–in the manner his friend Kandinsky had ardently advocated–he verged on the modernist ideal of pure painting. “I gradually found the right colors and form to express what my spiritual self demanded” (ibid., p. 52).
Jawlensky also began to paint female heads once again, only a few in 1915, then nearly two dozen more in a flush of enthusiasm during 1916. He retained in Das blasse Mädchen the strong pre-war contours drawn in black paint, while altering his formerly aggressive Fauve and expressionist battery of color to manifest the more subtle contrasts of ethereal, pastel tints. The presence of a young art student Jawlensky met in the autumn of 1916—Emmy Scheyer, whom he nicknamed “Galka” (“jackdaw,” for her black hair)—contributed to his renewed emphasis on the female visage. These paintings evolved into his next series, the Mystischer Kopf (“Mystical Head”). Henceforth, Jawlensky’s main subject would be “the human face, the divine in the human…[the artist believed] ‘a work of art is God made visible’” (M. Jawlensky et. al., op. cit., 1992, p. 16).
Greta Garbo collected Jawlensky in depth, a group now referred to as “The Garbo Jawlenskys” by Angelica Jawlensky Bianconi, a keeper of the Jawlensky Archives in Locarno. Garbo acquired her Jawlenskys from noted dealers in Los Angeles, New York, and in Germany and Switzerland, including Leonard Hutton and Dalzell Hatfield during the 1960s and 1970s. Garbo’s friend, screenwriter and co-star in the German version of Anna Christie, Salka Viertel, ran a salon for the German and Austrian expatriate community at her home in Santa Monica. As a result, Garbo would have crossed paths with Galka Scheyer, who was Jawlensky’s representative in California at the time.

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