Alexej von Jawlensky is one of the most famous expressionist painters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. As a Russian painter working in Germany, he transformed the world of modern art.
Georgewitsch von Jawlensky, better known as Alexej von Jawlensky, was born on 13 March 1864 in the town of Torzhok, Russia. He was the son of Georgi von Jawlensky and Alexandra Jawlensky, and their fifth child.
Torzhok was famed for its tradition of folk art goldwork embroidery. With a proud artistic history, the young Alexej von Jawlensky soaked up the town’s creative focus.
The family moved to Moscow in 1874. Alexej initially enrolled in the military academy, but his love of art soon took over.
Visiting the Moscow World Exposition in 1880 enthralled the young man. Luckily, the family had friends in high places. Alexej’s parents were subsequently able to secure introductions in St Petersburg.
This allowed Jawlensky to study art at the St Petersburg academy. He did this at the same time as his military duties – excelling in both.
Whilst studying in St Petersburg, Jawlensky met Ilya Repin. Ilya Repin was one of the most famed Russian artists of the nineteenth century. His work was pivotal in the development of the Russian Realist style.
She was so impressed by Jawlensky’s work that she devoted her energies to promoting his art. Marianne von Werefkin also provided the young artist with living expenses and further social introductions.
In 1894, Jawlensky moved to Munich with Marianne von Werefkin. He completed further studies with Anton Ažbe. Ažbe was a well-respected realist painter who trained the biggest names in impressionism and expressionism. His students included Wassily Kandinsky, famed for his Der Blaue Reiter paintings.
Deeply inspired by Wassily Kandinsky and his circle, Alexej von Jawlensky’s artistic career changed after this date. Alongside Kandinsky and Marianne von Werefkin (amongst others), he played a crucial role in forming Der Blaue Reiter group (the Blue Rider).
Together, the artists enjoyed spending summers in the Bavarian Alps. Accompanied by Gabriele Münter, they painted landscapes depicting their beautiful environment. The artists often discussed each other’s techniques and artistic goals, sharing knowledge and approaches.
Alexej von Jawlensky artworks from this period include the Yellow Sound paintings of 1907 and 1908 and The Mountain. From these early works, it’s possible to see the foundations of the Der Blaue Reiter paintings.
Der Blaue Reiter group was short-lived, only lasting from 1911 to 1914. This small artistic community was incredibly influential, however.
Der Blaue Reiter oil paintings and artworks focused on freedom of expression. Each artist strove to express spiritual truth in their work. Vivid colors and expressive brushwork were common features.
Alexej von Jawlensky particularly adopted the emotional use of color in his own artworks. He frequently worked with loose brushstrokes, piercing figural representations and flat forms.Two stunning Alexej von Jawlensky self-portraits (painted in 1912) demonstrate this perfectly; Alexej von Jawlensky self-portrait 1912 – 1 and Alexej von Jawlensky self-portrait 1912 – 2.
With the outbreak of the First World War, Jawlensky moved back to Russia. The war signaled the break-up of Der Blaue Reiter group. Franz Marc and Auguste Macke (two leading artists in the group) sadly died in active military service. The other artists spread all over Europe.
Jawlensky’s artworks developed considerably during the war years. He experimented with abstraction in works such as Variation When the Lark is Singing. Despite such experiments, Jawlensky returned to his love of depicting the human form. His expressionism paintings really took shape during this period.
Jawlensky met Galka Scheyer (the German-American painter, teacher and art dealer) in 1916 who also championed his work.
It was during this period that Jawlensky created two of his most famous series of works. These were Mystical Heads (1917-19) and Saviour’s Faces (1918-20). These portraits harked back to Alexej von Jawlensky’s upbringing in the town of Torzhok. They reflected the town’s folk-art rituals, specifically the traditional Russian Orthodox religious icons common in the area.
Alexej von Jawlensky artworks of the Mystical Heads series include Mystical Head Opal, Mystical Head in Blue and Mystical Head Dreaming Woman. The later Savior’s Faces series includes masterpieces such as Saviors Face Resurrection or The New Life II and Saviors Face Head of Christ.
After the First World War ended, Alexej von Jawlensky returned to Germany. He continued his tireless work on expressionism paintings and later settled in the town of Wiesbaden (Hesse).
Regarding his personal life, Alexej von Jawlensky married Hélène Nesnakomoff in 1922. They had a son together, Andreas, born in 1902.
Alexej von Jawlensky often painted Hélène. These subtle artworks displayed his deep love for her. They include works such as Helene in Red Waistcoat, Helene in Colored Turban and Helene with Her Hair Down.
Whilst living in Germany, Alexej von Jawlensky played a crucial role in forming the Blue Four. The group formed in 1924 and consisted of Jawlensky, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Lyonel Feininger.
Galka Scheyer was instrumental in bringing the artists together and promoting their work across Germany and America.
From 1929 onwards, Jawlensky struggled with arthritis and his health deteriorated. He consequently had to scale back creating his expressionism paintings. Jawlensky’s artistic output sadly came to an end in 1937.
Alexej von Jawlensky started dictating his life’s memoirs the following year. He remained in Wiesbaden for the rest of his life and died on 15 March 1941.
In a fitting tribute to the artist’s life and works, the “Jawlensky Award” commenced in 1991. This prestigious award is granted to a contemporary artist once every five years. It’s supported by Wiesbaden, Hesse and is also accompanied by an exhibition at the Museum Wiesbaden.
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