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Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
Property from the Collection of Lee V. Eastman
Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)

Frauenbildnis

Details
Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) Frauenbildnis oil on board laid down on cradled panel 21 x 19½ in. (53.3 x 49.5 cm.) Painted circa 1912-1913

Lot Essay

The Alexej von Jawlensky Archives have confirmed the authenticity of this painting and will include it in the forthcoming supplement to the catalogue raisonné.

In 1911, Alexej von Jawlensky experienced a turning point in his artistic development during a sojourn on the Baltic coast. "For me," the painter recalled in his memoirs, "that summer meant a great step forward in my art. I painted large 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" (quoted in C. Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads Faces Meditations, New York, 1971, p. 98). The present work stems from the brief yet dynamic period of creative activity that followed this stylistic transition and ended with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Jawlensky's paintings of this time characteristically eschew narrative motifs in favor of sparse, monumental forms and intense hues. Writing to a friend in 1938, the painter fondly described these years as the moment that he "found a personal form and palette" and produced the large figural paintings "with which I made a name for myself" (quoted in ibid., p.106).

Jawlensky's application of expressive color and form as independent pictorial elements dovetails with his use of the human face to convey deeper spiritual values. Jawlensky regarded color as the primary means to achieve profound expression. "My temperament having led me to color," he wrote, "it is this that I entrust with the task of reproducing my ideas and emotions as inspired by the nature I find around me" (quoted in ibid., p.105). The strong lines and high-keyed palette of the present painting also manifest the artist's renewed contact with Henri Matisse in 1911, with whom he had "long and fascinating conversations about art" (quoted in ibid., p. 98), and his first encounter with the German Expressionist, Emil Nolde, in 1912. Given the strength of Jawlensky's style and his vision of art as a vehicle for self-expression, there is significant tension between the depicted woman as an individual and as an artistic type. Addressing this aspect of Jawlensky's painting, scholar Clemens Weiler has written: "Synthesis, harmony, perfection--these were the guiding stars of Jawlensky's art; he was always striving to find a balance between content and form, between form and color and, last but not least, harmony between the picture and the state of his own psyche" (ibid., p. 11).

Another noteworthy feature of the present painting is its air of introspective seriousness. Jawlensky captures this emotional state with two unusual features: an elongated format and the sitter's closed eyes. Although infrequent within Jawlensky's oeuvre, half-length figures occur in his production around 1912. The rectangular, portrait-like format reflects the influence of Russian icons and folk art on the Russian-born painter. The woman's closed eyes are a rare substitute for the confrontational gaze in most of his pre-war heads and portraits, yet they complement the sitter's self-enclosed pose and express Jawlensky's goal of giving visible form to the unseen experiences of the internal world. The painter declared, "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" (quoted in ibid., p. 105).

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