"For me the face is not just a face but the whole universe. In the face the whole universe becomes manifest" (Jawlensky, quoted in C. Weiler, op. cit., 1970, p. 56).
Alexej von Jawlensky painted Mädchen mit blauen Augen und einem Zopf around 1916, the period when he was living in Saint-Prex. This was a Swiss village on Lake Geneva, where he had moved with his future wife, Hélène, their son Andrej and fellow artist Marianne von Werefkin following the outbreak of the First World War: as Russian nationals, they had been unable to stay in their adopted home, Munich. Switzerland was to prove the location where Jawlensky would make a number of incredible creative leaps and innovations in his paintings. This first appeared in the guise of his Variations, semi-abstract, codified images of the view from his room in Saint-Prex. Bathed in color, these lyrical images came to inform his output for much of the rest of his life. This is clear in Mädchen mit blauen Augen und einem Zopf, in which the face is already showing the artist's interest in creating a reduced, formal language through which to express spiritual, rather than visual, dimensions.
In this light, Mädchen mit blauen Augen und einem Zopf can be seen as a clear prefiguration of the more rigorous, stylized series that would later appear, first the Mystischer Kopf and Heilandsgesicht works from 1917, and subsequently the Abstrakter Kopf pictures. In all of the pictures showing the human face, Jawlensky was harking back to the revelatory moment of his youth in which he had seen an icon of the Madonna in one of the churches of his native Russia. Throughout his career from his time in Germany as a leading light of German Expressionism and onwards until his death, Jawlensky would focus on the human head as a means of depicting and provoking an almost religious reaction in his viewer. This is accentuated in Mädchen mit blauen Augen und einem Zopf by the intense luminosity of the composition, with its pools of intense color used to build up a sense of form, echoing the earlier Variations. Unlike his later images of the human head, though, where the composition is trained unscrupulously on the features of the head itself, in Mädchen mit blauen Augen und einem Zopf Jawlensky has shown more character in his sitter. The plait of the title is shown snaking over the girl's shoulder; she appears to be tentatively playing with it, hinting at a self-consciousness and vulnerability that is tied to youth. In this way, Mädchen mit blauen Augen und einem Zopf reveals the artistic breakthroughs that Jawlensky was making at this time, as he explored the potential of serialization in his picture, yet is clearly unique and individual, tethered around its rich sense of distinctive personality.