Between 1908 until 1910, Alexej von Jawlensky had spent his summers with his fellow Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky, as well as Gabriele Münter and Marianne von Werefkin, in Murnau, in the Bavarian Alps. There, the artists all painted side by side, often learning from each other's examples. It was during this period that Jawlensky developed the bold technique for capturing the landscape in luminous, intense swathes of pure colour that is so evident in Blauer Berg, painted circa 1910. This picture, which relates so closely to the view of Murnau now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., may have been painted during one of those excursions.
In Blauer Berg, some of the brushwork appears to echo the pictures of Kandinsky, yet the bold use of fields of barely-modulated colour, and the extreme elegance and simplicity of the composition show the all-important influence of the Orthodox icons of Jawlensky's native Russia, which would inform the paintings of human faces that would occupy him for so much of the rest of his life, from 1911 onwards. Like the icons, Blauer Berg is intended as a focal point for contemplation, a luminous portal to a greater understanding and appreciation of nature. As Jawlensky himself stated, 'My art is simply a meditation or prayer in colour' (A. Jawlensky, quoted in C. Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads, Faces, Meditations, London, 1971, p. 64). The red bruising of the sky above the lapis-like mountains, as well as the hints of purple in the green foreground, all combine to fill the picture with the atmosphere of dawn or dusk - Jawlensky has perfectly captured the spirit of the scene, conveying not only his own sensations of awe and wonderment but also a deeper expression of nature itself, introducing an almost religious dimension to the landscape. It was this ability to convey the spiritual through the bold use of incandescent colours that would come to be of such importance to so many of the German Expressionists befriended by Jawlensky during this period, not least Franz Marc and August Macke.
The present work has a very interesting provenance. By the late 1930s Mme Jawlensky had already been using the Swiss shipping company Karl Im Obersteg & Co to store a large number of her husband's paintings. Karl himself was an avid supporter of classic modernist art and amassed a phenomenal collection of works by Chagall, Picasso, Jawlensky, Klee and Soutine; the majority of the Im Obersteg collection, around 200 works, were left to the Basel Kunstmuseum, where nearly all are permanently exhibited. In November 1952, the company was able to organise the return of all the stored works to Mme Jawlensky, who had lost almost all of her other possessions in a bombing raid on Wiesbaden during the Second World War. In gratitude for this kindness, Mme Jawlensky chose and gifted one painting to each of the two directors of the company; Blauer Berg was one of these two paintings and was presented to the father of the present owner.