Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
Property from an Esteemed Private Collection
Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)

Die Griechin

Details
Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
Die Griechin
signed and dated 'A. Jawlensky 1913' (upper right)
oil on board
21 x 19 ½ in. (53.3 x 49.5 cm.)
Painted in Munich in 1913
Provenance
Artist’s studio.
Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, Hanover, Moscow and Novosibirsk.
Carlo Kos, Klagenfurt.
Anon. sale, Christie’s, New York, 17 May 1983, lot 50.
Private collection, United States.

Please note that the present work is being offered for sale pursuant to a settlement agreement between the current owner and the heirs of Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers. The settlement agreement resolves the dispute over ownership of the work and title will pass to the successful bidder.
Literature
M. Jawlensky, L. Pieroni-Jawlensky and A. Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings 1890-1914, London, 1991, vol. 1, p. 477, no. 606 (illustrated).

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Max Carter
Max Carter

Lot Essay

Gazing askance, but out of the corner of one, wide-open eye, looking intently at the viewer as well, this head of Die Griechin—a Greek woman—projects the rugged, mountainous topography and the earthy, ancient, ancestral spirit of her native land. Many of the women that Jawlensky portrayed during 1913, at the culmination of his series of large, resonantly chromatic female heads, suggest in their titles a Mediterranean provenance—Spain, especially, but also Sicily, Italy, and Egypt—as well as civilizations in the distant past, in an icon-like Byzantine visage and a Renaissance head (cat. rais., op. cit., 1991, nos. 582 and 586). One Frauenkopf is simply called Erde—“Earth” (no. 597). Perhaps thematically related to Die Griechen is another portrait, painted around the same time, which appears to describe the haunted features of a woman possessed—Prophet, or Sibylle, a priestess of the god Apollo (no. 608).
Jawlensky commenced his series of monumental heads two years earlier. “In the spring of 1911…I went to Prerow on the Baltic,” the artist stated in the memoir he dictated to Lisa Kümmel in 1937. “For me that summer meant a great step forward in my art. I painted my finest landscapes as well as 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… It was a turning point in my art. It was in these years, up to 1914 just before the war, that I painted my most powerful works, referred to as the ‘pre-war’ works” (quoted in ibid., p. 31).
“He was deeply fascinated by the primal force of the female principle”—Angelica Jawlensky Bianconi has explained—“this intangible energy which he experienced as much stronger than its male counterpart. His heads do not—or only rarely—represent a specific person, an individual, but rather reproduce the concentrated force of the female principle and its inherent mystery. Wild, sonorous colors, completely stripped of their descriptive function, in extremely simplified, concentrated forms, give this feminine primal force its power” (Alexej Jawlensky, exh. cat., Neue Galerie, New York, 2017, p. 70).
The concentration of form that imparts to these female heads their commanding presence stems largely from Jawlensky’s decision to configure the visage, either frontally or—as seen here—in three-quarter view, very close-up, and larger than life. In a swelling concentricity of contours that emanates from the mesmerizing, outsize eyes—as in the Byzantine and Russian religious icons that the artist admired and studied—the subject’s head and hair nearly fill the almost square board. Die Griechin has adorned herself in a traditional red kerchief; an aura radiates from her form into the surrounding space.
Within the outlines of the head and its features, drawn on the board in black paint, Jawlensky brushed on flat areas of color in his characteristically urgent, volatile manner of handling. In some heads he would heighten the flesh tones with lighter tints to suggest the highlights of modeled form. To create the visage in Die Griechin, however, the artist opted for a bolder approach, taking full advantage of the primary modernist paradigm that enforces flatness in the pictorial scheme. Within adjacent passages, Jawlensky applied values and tones of contrasting but equivalent strength, pitting one against the other, in areas of light against dark, red against black, or one primary color facing off against the other two, as in the blue-yellow-red passage on the Greek woman’s left cheek. The effect is starkly primitive—Die Griechin is woman as landscape, timeless and indomitable as nature itself.
From the outset of his career, Jawlensky had been an ardent colorist; he took heart in the work of Gauguin and Van Gogh, and was present at the debut of Fauvism in the 1905 Salon d’Automne. He later knew Matisse. During the summers of 1908 and 1909 he worked with his companion Marianne Werefkin, together with Wassily Kandinsky and his partner Gabriele Münter, in Murnau, in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. Together they assimilated and quickly transformed the most recent Parisian ideas to forge a distinctive central European approach to color in modern painting.
"The exotic coloring of Jawlensky and of the Murnau Kandinsky sets the German work apart from the French,” John Elderfield has written. “French coloring resolved itself around the primaries and the contrast of complementary hues; the German use of color depended on an orchestration of adjacent hues, set off and enlivened by complementaries, and generally deeper and more resonant in effect. German ‘Fauvist’ art extends the form of pictorial resolution of Van Gogh, where the primary colors are often modified by the addition of darker pigments to unite the work tonally. The glowing light of German paintings contrasts with the light-reflective surfaces of the French. The Fauves used high color in a harmonious way; the Brücke group [the Berlin expressionists] for the drama it evoked; Kandinsky and his friends, at the service of an inward vision" (Fauvism and Its Affinities, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1976, p. 143).
In 1909 Jawlensky became a founding member—with Werefkin, Kandinsky, Münter and others—of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (The New Artists Association of Munich). He contributed eleven paintings to the first exhibition, held in December of that year. Kandinsky wrote a brief forward to the catalogue, which reflects the tenor of his own work, and Jawlensky’s art as well: “Our point of departure is the belief that the artist, apart from those impressions that he receives from the world of appearances, continually accumulates experiences from his own inner world. We seek artistic forms that should express the reciprocal permeation of all these experiences—forms that must be freed from everything incidental, in order to pronounce only that which is necessary… This seems to us a solution that once more today unites in spirit increasing numbers of artists” (K.C. Lindsay and P. Vergo, Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, New York, 1994, p. 53).
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