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 Alexej  von Jawlensky

German expressionist of Russian origin


The Russian painter Alexej von Jawlensky spent most of his life (1864–1941) in Germany. In Russia he is ranked among the artists of the Russian abroad, whereas in Europe he is considered a German artist of Russian origin.
In the exposure of the largest European museums and in auction directories his name stands on a par with Vassily Kandinsky and Marianna Verevkina. There are few works by Alexej von Jawlensky in Russia, so traditionally the palm is given to Vassily Kandinsky. Meanwhile, there is an opinion that Vassily Kandinsky created his first abstractions under the influence of Alexej von Jawlensky. Both the artists were founders of the New Art Society (1909) and members of the associations Blue Rider (1911) and Blue Four (1924).
Alexey Jawlensky was a hereditary officer, who traded shoulder straps for paintbrushes and a palette. From 1890 he combined military service with studies in the Petersburg Academy of Arts. Gradually the authority of Ilya Repin gave place to his passion for the avant-garde artist Marianna Verevkina. Further creative searches brought Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianna Verevkina to Munich, where lots of famous Russian artists had already moved by then. Vassily Kandinsky, David Burliuk, Igor Grabar, and Dmitry Kardovsky were among them.
At the beginning of the 20th century Alexej von Jawlensky moved away from the realistic tradition in painting once and for all. However, the epoch of experiments and quest for the artist’s own style lasted for more than ten years. Within those years the artist underwent ardour for Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, fauvism and Matisse. He got acquainted with Matisse in 1905. His influence is clearly seen in such works as Still Life with Fruit, Figurine and Bottle (1907) or Still Life with Color Cloth (1910). In that period already dynamic, expressive line and vivid saturated palette was inherent in the art manner of Alexej von Jawlensky. These characteristic features can be seen in the painting Red Cheeked Woman’s Head (1912-1913).
About 1914 when Alexej von Jawlensky left Germany for Switzerland, his art manner finally took shape. He left behind specific and unnecessary details. The artist called his generalized images variations divided into landscapes, still lifes and "heads". Women’s heads were his favourite genre. The Woman’s Head created with several brush strokes (1916) doesn't claim for obvious portrait likeness, but vividly expresses the character’s essence. Over the years his mystical woman's faces with big, wide open eyes had more and more echoes of the orthodox icon. “I was born Russian and Old Russian art and iconography was always close to my Slavic soul... My work is my prayer, a passionate prayer conveyed with colors”.
In 1921 the artist returned to Germany and settled in Wiesbaden. Eight years later he was diagnosed with progressing paralysis. This is when he created the series of abstract portraits under the title Meditation. These paintings are considered to be the summit of his creativity. The Savior’s Face is a striking example of how getting rid of unnecessary details a human face turns ascetic with the lines of the nose and eyebrows reminding of the cross outlines.
The artist could no longer use his right hand freely and yet he kept painting, directing it with his left hand. Without expecting to exhibit his works, he nevertheless continued to create. He worked in ecstasy, with tears in his eyes. Thus over the last three years of his work he created more than one and a half thousand paintings.
Unfortunately, in 1933 the Nazis prohibited Alexej von Jawlensky to paint and in 1937 his confiscated works were displayed at the notorious exhibition Degenerative Art.
Alexej von Jawlensky died at the age of 76 and was laid down to rest at the Russian Cemetery in Wiesbaden.

Tags: Russian Artists Abstractionism Avant-garde   

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