Alexej von Jawlensky is one of the most famous Expressionist painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 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 fifth son of Georgi von Jawlensky and Alexandra Jawlensky. Torzhok was famed for its folk art goldwork embroidery tradition, and the young Jawlensky soaked up the town’s creative focus. He married Hélène Nesnakomoff in 1922, and they had one son, Andreas, born in 1902. Alexej von Jawlensky often painted Hélène with subtle artworks displaying his deep love for her. They include works such as Helene in Red Waistcoat, Helene in Colored Turban, and Helene with Her Hair Down.
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, and Alexej’s parents subsequently secured introductions in St Petersburg. Jawlensky commenced his studies at the St Petersburg Academy. He did this alongside his military duties, excelling in both.
While studying in St Petersburg, the artist met Ilya Repin, one of the most famous Russian artists of the 19th century. Ilya Repin's paintings are pivotal to the Russian Realism art movement. Alexej von Jawlensky fitted into Repin’s close artistic circle well. Here, he also met Marianne von Werefkin, well-known for her Expressionist paintings. Alexej Jawlensky and his oil paintings impressed her so much that she devoted her energy 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 continued his studies with Anton Azbe. Azbe was a well-respected realist painter who trained the biggest names in Impressionism art and Expressionist paintings. His students included Wassily Kandinsky, famed for his Der Blaue Reiter artworks. Deeply inspired by Wassily Kandinsky and his circle, Jawlensky's artistic career changed after this date. Alongside Kandinsky and Marianne von Werefkin, he played a crucial role in forming The Blue Rider group of artists.
Jawlensky enjoyed spending summers in the Bavarian Alps, and accompanied by Gabriele Münter, they both created colorful landscape paintings of their beautiful surroundings. Munter and Jawlensky artists often discussed techniques and artistic goals, sharing their knowledge and approaches. Alexej von Jawlensky paintings from this period include the Yellow Sound paintings of 1907 and 1908 and The Mountain. From these early paintings, it is possible to see the foundations of the Der Blaue Reiter group of artists. 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 focus on freedom of expression, with each artist striving to express spiritual truth. Vivid colors and expressive brushwork are common features.
Alexej von Jawlensky mainly adopted the emotional use of color in his oil paintings. They frequently demonstrate loose brushstrokes, piercing figural representations, and flat forms. Two stunning Alexej von Jawlensky self-portrait paintings show this perfectly in Jawlensky's Self-portraits paintings.
With the First World War outbreak, Jawlensky moved back to Russia. Unfortunately, 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 in the Group dispersed all over Europe. Jawlensky’s art style developed considerably during the war years. He experimented with Abstract Art in paintings such as Variation When the Lark is Singing. Despite such experiments, Jawlensky returned to his love of depicting the human form, and his expressionist paintings took shape during this period.
In 1916 Jawlensky met Galka Scheyer, the German-American painter, teacher, and art dealer who also championed his work.
From 1916 onwards, Jawlensky created two of his most colorful paintings; Mystical Heads and Saviour’s Faces. These portrait paintings hark back to Alexej von Jawlensky’s upbringing in the town of Torzhok. They reflect the town’s folk-art rituals and, specifically, the traditional Russian Orthodox religious icons familiar to the area. Alexej von Jawlensky paintings in the Mystical Heads series include Mystical Head Opal, Mystical Head in Blue, and Mystical Head Dreaming Woman. The later Religious Art series contains masterpieces such as Saviors Face Resurrection, 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 modern art oil paintings and later settled in the town of Wiesbaden, Hesse. While living in Germany, Alexej von Jawlensky played a crucial role in forming the Blue Four. The group formed in 1924 also comprised 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. As his health deteriorated, he scaled back his expressionist paintings, and his artistic output sadly ended in 1937. Alexej von Jawlensky started dictating his life’s memoirs the following year, remaining in Wiesbaden for the rest of his life. He 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. The successful artist enjoys support from Wiesbaden and Hesse, accompanied by an exhibition at the Museum Wiesbaden.
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