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Bildnis (Bildnis Toni)

Bildnis (Bildnis Toni)
signed 'A. Jawlensky' (lower right)
oil on board
16 x 12 3⁄8 in. (40.5 x 31.4 cm.)
Painted in St. Prex circa 1915
Galka Scheyer, Los Angeles.
Redfern Gallery, London, by December 1953.
Sir Rex de Charembac Nan Kivell, London, by whom acquired from the above in May 1956.
Dr. Spiegl, California.
Leonard Hutton Galleries, New York, by February 1965.
Anonymous sale, Galerie La Motte, Geneva, December 1970, lot 164.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby’s & Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 21 October 1971, lot 128.
Galerie Gunzenhauser, Munich, by whom probably acquired at the above sale.
Acquired from the above by the late owner in 1978.
M. Jawlensky, L. Pieroni-Jawlensky & A. Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, vol. II, 1914-1933, London, 1992, no. 658, pp. 59-60 (illustrated p. 59).
Alexej von Jawlensky, exh. cat. Palazzo Reale, Milan, 1995, p. 23 (illustrated; titled 'Testa di ragazza' and dated '1915-1916').
London, Redfern Gallery, Russian Emigré Artists in Paris, December 1953 - January 1954, no. 120 (illustrated; titled 'Tête de jeune fille').
London, Redfern Gallery, Alexej von Jawlensky, May - June 1956, no. 18 (illustrated; dated ‘1913’).
London, Redfern Gallery, Patrick Heron, Derwent Lees, Paul Olds and The Abstract Influence, 1910-1950, March 1958, no. 89 (titled 'Mädchen Kopf').
London, Redfern Gallery, Michael Ayrton, Jawlensky, Viera da Silva, June - July 1959, no. 55 (dated ‘1913’).
London, Redfern Gallery, Jawlensky, October 1960, no. 11 (illustrated; dated ‘1913’).
Pasadena, Museum of Art, Alexei Jawlensky, A Centennial Exhibition, April - May 1964, no. 48, p. 79 (dated '1913’); this exhibition later travelled to Waltham, Bradeis University, Rose Art Museum, November - December 1964, Manitoba, Winnipeg Art Gallery, January - February 1965; Berkley, University of California Art Gallery, March 1965; Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Art Gallery, October - November 1965; and New Orleans, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, December 1965 - January 1966.
New York, Leonard Hutton Galleries, A Centennial Exhibition of Paintings by Alexej Jawlensky, February - March 1965, no. 25 (dated ‘1913’).
Munich, Galerie Gunzenhauser, Alexej Jawlensky, Ölbilder, October 1971, no. 7, p. 3 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

Created by Alexej von Jawlensky around 1915, Bildnis (Bildnis Toni) is a primary example of the Mystical Heads, a painting series created between 1917 and 1919, which was aimed at the representation of the spiritual dimension intrinsic in humanity and visible through the human face. The Mystical Heads are stylised female faces, showing the head, neck, and sometimes, like in this instance, the shoulders. In Bildnis (Bildnis Toni) strong colour patches juxtaposed against those of shimmering pastel tones hold together effortlessly within the overall lyricism of this perfectly balanced composition. Jawlensky’s reliance on strong colour contrasted and carved out from the negative space of the underlying board imbues his head with a sense of magnitude and mysticism.

The oval is the main form of the pictorial composition, dominated by the large open eyes outlined in black, with the pupil magically engaging the viewer in dialogue. The girl’s hair in curls, hanging down over the ears, recall the German painter Emmy Scheyer who met Jawlensky during his exile in Switzerland and, fascinated by his art, became the subject of his work, where he went on to paint her many times and from these portraits developed his ‘heads’. This painting marks a transition from the sensual, dramatic and voluptuous portrayal of his pre-war heads as bearers of emotions (Head of a Woman, circa 1911), to the artist’s longing for the exploration of the soul.

The outbreak of the First World War in the late summer of 1914 caused a break in Jawlensky’s work. Being Russian, he had to flee Germany and move to Saint-Prex, in Switzerland. This period of exile in Switzerland (1914-1921) represented a watershed in his artistic development. Amidst these tragic events, he could no longer paint his powerful and intensely coloured pictures of the past and felt compelled to find a more spiritual language to express what he recognised within his soul. His pictorial aim became the expression of the spiritual and mystical dimension through the language of colour.

Jawlensky's exploration of colour-form was influenced by Delaunay’s Orphist theories concerning the use of colour as the sole agent for the expression and structure of a painting (Self Portrait, 1909) and Matisse’s Fauvist simplification of forms and expressive use of colour to convey emotion and atmosphere (Portrait of Madame Matisse, 1905).

Thus, Bildnis (Bildnis Toni) – the forerunner to the Mystical Head series – marks a shift from the depiction of emotionally charged portraits characteristic of the pre-war period, to the creation of a formal stereotype that transcends individuality. The artist used the depiction of the human face to communicate a spiritual message purified of all descriptive intent. Jawlensky’s goal was to paint what was in his soul and his deepest self; like a meditation; and his language was colour. Humanity is Jawlensky’s basic theme, whether it be the lush and sensual humanity of the pre-war period, or the spiritualised conception of humanity that one finds during the last twenty years of his life. Jawlensky’s art exerts a powerful magic over the beholder and his work is the embodiment of his life-long belief that “Art is a longing for God.

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