ALEXEJ VON JAWLENSKY (1864-1941)
Alexej von Jawlensky (born on the 13th of March 1864, Torschok, Russia - died on the 15th of March 1941, Wiesbaden, Germany) was a Russian Expressionist painter who gained a strong reputation for his portraits and for the abstraction and stylisation of facial features. Directional brushstrokes, the use of rich and intense colours, as well as a focus on mystical subjects are all characteristic of his work.
Jawlensky served in the Tsarist army as an officer and then followed fine art classes in St. Petersburg under the guidance of realist painter Ilya Repin. In 1899, he met with Wassily Kandinsky with whom he formed the Expressionist movement Der blaue Reiter (“The blue rider”). As Jawlensky’s style was progressively impregnated with Expressionism, he also drew influence from the Neo-Impressionnists and the Fauves - Henri Matisse especially – which explains his use of vibrant colours and sharp contrasts. The artist who first represented portraits, landscapes and still lifes progressively began to focus solely on the depiction of faces.
During the First World War, Jawlensky fled to Switzerland before returning to Germany in 1921. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the artist developed his series of “Abstract Heads” which he started at the end of the First World War, allowing him to work with a consistent compositional structure and focus on a systematic search for harmony and spirituality through the use of colour. This artistic endeavour was ambitious and led to the artist's most fruitful production. By getting rid of all superfluous details, Jawlensky found a deep and acute understanding of human faces, in an attempt to show an uncluttered vision of people's soul and real nature. Just as a modern religious icon, this period’s artworks are subject to contemplation and tell of society's quest for new meanings and identities following the atrocities of the war. As Jawlensky said, 'My art is simply a meditation or prayer in colour’.
His canvases were confiscated by the Nazis, with some even shown during the 1937 Degenerate art exhibition. Nowadays, his work is widely acclaimed, being part of the permanent collections of major art museums worldwide, including the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C..
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