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Alexei von Jawlensky


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(b Torzhok, 13 [25] Mar. 1864; d Wiesbaden, 15 Mar. 1941).

Russian Expressionist painter, active mainly in Germany. Originally he was an army officer, but in 1906 he resigned his commission and moved to Munich to devote himself completely to art. Munich was to be his home until the outbreak of the First World War, but he travelled a good deal in this period, notably making several visits to France (he was the first of his Munich associates to have direct contact with advanced French art). In 1905 he met Matisse in Paris and was influenced by the strong colours and bold outlines of the Fauves. He combined them with influences from the Russian traditions of icon painting and peasant art to form a highly personal style that expressed his passionate temperament and mystical conception of art. A mood of melancholy introspection—far removed from the ebullience of Fauvism—is characteristic of much of his work and it has been said that he ‘saw Matisse through Russian eyes’. In 1909 he was one of the founders of the Neue Künstlervereinigung, and apart from Kandinsky he was the outstanding artist of the group. His most characteristic works of this period are a series of powerful portrait heads, begun in 1910 (Alexander Sacharoff, 1913, Städtisches Mus., Wiesbaden). On the outbreak of war in 1914 Jawlensky took refuge in Switzerland, where he remained until 1921. His work there included a series of ‘variations’ on the view from a window—small, semi-abstract landscapes with a meditative, religious aura. Like Kandinsky and others, Jawlensky believed in a correspondence between colours and musical sounds and he named these pictures Songs without Words. In 1918 he began a series of nearly abstract heads, in which he reduced the features to a few curves and lines. Unlike Kandinsky, however, he always based his forms on nature. From 1921 he lived in Wiesbaden, and in 1924 he joined with Kandinsky, Klee, and Feininger to form the Blaue Vier. From 1929 he suffered from arthritis and by 1938 this had forced him to abandon painting completely.

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