Painted in 1933, Abstrakter Kopf: Ostern is one of the pictures that Alexej von Jawlensky sent to his great disciple and advocate, Emmy 'Galka' Scheyer. It was Scheyer who essentially promoted Jawlensky's works in the United States in the period after the First World War; while Jawlensky was in many ways her main cause, she also promoted the works of Kandinsky, Feininger and Klee, uniting these artists under the banner of the 'Blue Four' and celebrating their works in a series of exhibitions. It is probable that Abstrakter Kopf: Ostern was itself unnumbered amongst the works shown in one of these exhibitions in Los Angeles in 1933, the same year that Germany declared Jawlensky's art to be 'degenerate.'
In the memoir he dictated to another female artist and devotee to his works, Lisa Kümmel, Jawlensky recalled:
'On a visit to Lausanne in 1916 I met Emmy Scheyer. She came from Brussels and was herself a painter (Impressionist). A few days later she came to see us at Saint-Prex. There she saw my Hunchback and my 'Variations' and was so enthusiastic about them that she wanted to give up painting herself and dedicate herself to my art. 'Why should I go on painting when I know I can't produce such good art as you?' she asked. 'It's better that I should dedicate myself to your art and explain it to others.' And indeed ever since that time she has occupied herself with my art with great understanding' (Jawlensky, quoted in 'Memoir dictated to Lisa Kümmel, Wiesbaden, 1937', pp. 25-33 in M. Jawlensky, L. Peroni-Jawlensky and A. Jawlensky (ed.), op. cit., Volume I 1890-1914, London, 1991, p. 32).
Jawlensky's abstract heads are a form of modern religious icon. These are objects for focus and contemplation. As Jawlensky himself explained, 'My art is simply a meditation or prayer in colour' (Jawlensky, quoted in Clemens Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads, Faces, Meditations, London, 1971, p. 64). Nowhere is this more true than in his stylised heads such as Abstrakter Kopf: Ostern, in which the act of painting, taking a similar template and using a range of nuances and variations on the same theme, is an act of meditation on the part of the artist. At the same time, their semi-abstraction recalls the icons of his native Russia. In a letter written to the painter, monk and member of the Nabis, Pater Willibrod Verkade, Jawlensky explained the genesis of these abstract heads:
'I had come to understand that great art can only be painted with religious feeling. And that I could only bring to the human face. I understood that the artist must express through his art, in forms and colours, the divine inside him. Therefore a work of art is God made visible, and art is a 'longing for God'. I have painted 'Faces' for many years. I sat in my studio and painted, and did not need Nature as a prompter. I only had to immerse myself in myself, pray, and prepare my soul to a state of religious awareness. I painted many 'Faces'. Their size too is only 32 x 42. They are technically very perfect, and radiate spirituality' (Jawlensky, letter to Pater Willlibrord Verkade, quoted in Jawlensky, Pieroni, Jawlensky and Jawlensky, loc. cit., 1991, p. 34).