With its exuberant use of colour and the typical format of 54 x 50 cm, the standard dimensions of Jawlensky's ante-bellum portraits, Mdchen mit violetter Bluse is amongst his most striking female portraits of the early expressive part of his career. As in his most sensual Kpfe of 1912, the woman's head is underlined by a halo of centripetal bands of colour, self-contained by the dark line of the cloisonnement, a characteristic of his earlier Murnau experiments. A vibrant cobalt-blue line softens the dramatic leap from the pyrotechnic palette of the figure to its solid background. This chromatic device enhances the graphic impact of the image, deeply indebted to the Russian tradition of icons and portraits (see fig. 1), where the decorative game of lines and colours is played against a homogeneous, flat support. 'Every artist works in a tradition,' Jawlensky wrote in 1939. 'Some take their tradition from the art of the Greeks, others from that of the Renaissance. I am Russian-born. As such my heart and soul have always felt close to old Russian art, to Russian icons, the art of Byzantium, the mosaics of Ravenna, Venice and Rome and the art of the Romanesque period... It was this art that gave me my tradition' (quoted in C. Weiler, Heads, Faces, Meditations, English edition, London, 1971, p. 11).
Mdchen mit violetter Bluse has a very distinguished provenance. In the late 1920s, it was taken to the United States by Galka Shayer (fig. 2), Jawlensky's muse, confidante, friend and loyal agent. Galka came from a wealthy Brunswick family and first saw works by Jawlensky at an exhibition in Lausanne in 1915. They made such an impression on her that she decided to meet the artist in his Swiss exile, at St Prex, in 1916. Thereafter she gave up painting herself and became Jawlensky's secretary, agent and dealer and was responsible for arranging the first exhibitions of his works in America. In 1924, at her instigation, the group Die Blauen Vier, including Jawlensky, Kandinsky, Klee and Feininger, was formed. The artists entrusted her a sizeable proportion of their works, as she was their indefatigable agent in America. When in 1945 she died in Los Angeles, her lawyer Milton Wichner took over her house in Hollywood, together with its whole contents, including the unique collection of works by the Blaue Vier she had gathered.
In April 1953 many of the most important of her pictures, including Mdchen mit violetter Bluse, entered the collection of the Pasadena Art Museum (today incorporated in the Norton Simon Museum of Art). In May 1959, Thomas W. Leavitt, Director of the Museum, de-accessioned the oil selling it to Robert M. Light, with the aim of purchasing works of art for the Museum in exchange. Leavitt's consignment to Light, dated '2 May, 1959', emphasises the importance of the work: '... this painting... is an important example of Jawlensky's early work. I do not expect that the Museum will release another comparable painting from the collection'.