Painted in 1911, Blasse Blüten shows a woman who is wearing blossom as an adornment. Her eyes appear almost closed, or as though she is looking down, her head arched or bowed in a tender gesture that recalls the Madonna in traditional images of the Pietà. This comparison is perhaps no coincidence, for Jawlensky's paintings of the female head aim to capture a sense of spiritual harmony and, as a Theosophist, it was often to the Christian imagery of Western art that he resorted to seek out archetypes, that he could in turn imbue with a new and more universal meaning.
Jawlensky himself saw 1911 as a watershed in his paintings, and especially the Spring of that year. In terms of the bold colourism in Blasse Blüten, of its placement within the chronology of the catalogue raisonné of Jawlensky's works and the presence of blossom itself, this picture can be seen to fit within this exciting revolution within his works. Jawlensky himself fondly reminisced about this fruitful period in his recollections:
'In the Spring of 1911 Marianne Werefkin, Andrej, Helene and I went to Prerow on the Baltic. For me that summer meant a great step forward in my art. I painted my finest landscapes there as well as large figure paintings in powerful, glowing colours not at all naturalistic or objective. I used a great deal of red, blue, orange, cadmium yellow and chromium-oxide green. My forms were very strongly contoured in Prussian blue and came with tremendous power from an inner ecstasy. The hunchback, The violet turban, Self-portrait (now in Basel) and Fantasy head (Gröpel Bochum Collections) were created in this way. It was a turning-point in my art. It was in these years, up to 1914 just before the war, that I painted my most powerful works, referred to as the 'pre-war works'' (Alexej Jawlensky, quoted in 'Memoir dictated to Lisa Kümmel, Wiesbaden, 1937', pp. 25-33 in M. Jawlensky, L. Peroni-Jawlensky and A. Jawlensky (ed.), op. cit. 1991, p. 31).
In terms both of the daring use of intense flashes of colour and the bold composition, Blasse Blüten can be seen to have striking similarities to several of the works mentioned above. It is pertinent to note that those pictures, which Jawlensky listed in his recollections while describing them as ' large figure paintings,' were all on canvases of roughly the same size, give or take a centimetre, as Blasse Blüten-- size in Jawlensky's paintings was a relative concept. Likewise, Jawlensky's discussion of ' red, blue, orange, cadmium yellow and chromium-oxide green' appears almost as a checklist of the colours that feature in Blasse Blüten and that enhance its claim to be one of those 'most powerful works' of which he was so proud. The advances the artist had made during this period were recogonised with his first one-man exhibition in 1911.
The beauty that Jawlensky sought to instill in his paintings was spiritual, and indeed he was in many ways a pathfinder in this. It is a reflection of the shared interests in spiritualism of these artists that Kandinsky, with whom Jawlensky had previously holidayed on several occasions and with whom he also made some of the greatest advances in his theories upon art, published his own book, Über das Geistige in der Kunst ('Concerning the Spiritual in Art') at the end of 1911, the year that Blasse Blüten was painted. It was their shared interest in such matters that had led the two artists to found, alongside several others, the Neue Künstlervereinigung Munich (NKVM) two years earlier; it was Jawlensky's perception of the increasing conservatism that came to fix its grasp upon that group and undermine it that led him to abandon it within a short time. This resulted in his works being shown in 1912 in the exhibitions of the Blaue Reiter, a new group founded by Kandinsky and Marc. Although Jawlensky only joined the group the year after its foundation, having stayed loyal as long as possible to the NKVM, as soon as he joined the Blaue Reiter, he was welcomed as a lynchpin, a reflection of his importance as a trailblazer in the matters that concerned these artists.
The shared interest in the spiritual, for the Blaue Reiter artists, led to their advocating the liberation of colour. No longer should the colours in a painting ape those of visual reality. Instead, they were used to fill the picture with energy, with a glow. Jawlensky has used bold colours, and in particular the contrasts between the darker areas of Blasse Blüten and the lighter flesh areas, lend the woman a sense of aura. This colourism reflected his contacts both with Kandinsky and, earlier, with the French Fauve artists, especially Henri Matisse. Yet in terms of the spirituality that was so central to Jawlensky's paintings, it was in fact his encounter with Sérusier that was more influential, that encouraged him truly to liberate colour and to use it to capture the soul of the world through pictorial means.
Rather than sweeping away the old entirely in an artistic revolution, Jawlensky's solution to reconciling art with the spiritual can be seen to have used, as its template, the icons of the Orthodox Church in his native Russia. It was perhaps with this as a pretext that he stated, 'It became necessary for me to find a form for the face, for I realized that great art was only to be painted with religious feeling. And that was something I could bring only to the human face' (Alexej Jawlensky, quoted in Clemens Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads, Faces, Meditations, London, 1971, p. 30). The Russian icons, which are of such ritual importance in mediating between the terrestrial and the heavenly planes in traditional Orthodox belief, are still painted to this day according to certain rigid and codified rules, often featuring extremely simplified forms.
Within Jawlensky's own work, there are several features that appeared to evolve from this background. In part, the increasing focus on the ritual of the act of painting, as would become increasingly apparent in his later series, not least the Variations- landscapes that began with the view from his room, but which he continued to paint even when he was nowhere near the motif. In this sense, the seeds of the increasing pictorial simplification and codification of forms that would lead to the Heilandsgesicht and Abstrakter Kopf works are already evident in the pared-back yet eminently eloquent forms in Blasse Blüten, where blocks of sheer colour have been arranged, often with dark contours, in order to render the image of the woman. But most of all, a religious precedent can be seen in the similarity of the pose in this work to those of depictions of the Pietà. Perhaps it was to more Western religious painting that he turned in adopting such a pose. He has deliberately removed anything overly specific from it-- there is no dead Christ, and the woman could just be looking at more blossom to arrange in her hair. Yet Jawlensky has managed to condense an immense dignity into this simple stolen moment, this intimate gesture. It is hieratic, domestic, religious, all at once, and this potent combination renders it exquisitely absorbing. For ultimately, it is as a focus for the viewer, an image in which to lose ourselves in a swirl of colour, harmony and spirituality, that Blasse Blüten was painted: 'My art is simply a meditation or prayer in colour' (Jawlensky, quoted ibid., p. 64).
Oil on card
Please note that the illustration has been cropped on the right-hand side. Please refer to the department for a transparency.
THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE GERMAN COLLECTOR
Signed 'A. Jawlensky' (lower right)
Alexej von Jawlensky
Cologne, Galerie Ferdinand Möller, Die alten Meister der modernen Kunst in Deutschland, November 1951 - January 1952.
Verviers, Musée des Beaux-Arts, L'Expressionisme Allemand, July - September 1958, no. 26 (illustrated).
Aachen, Suermondt Museum, Deutsche Malerei im XX. Jahrhundert,May - June 1959, no. 26 (illustrated).
Aachen, Suermondt Museum, Vom Bild zum Zeichen. Die Sammlung Felix Peltzer, no. 39 (illustrated pl. 13).
Frankfurt, Kunstverein, Alexej von Jawlensky, September - October 1967, no. 17 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Hamburg, Kunstverein, October - December 1967.
Cologne, Galerie Gmyrzynska, Russische Künstler aus dem 20. Jahrhundert, October - November 1968, no. 36 (illustrated).
Bielefeld, Kunsthalle Bielefeld, "O'Mensch! Das Bild des Expressionismus", November 1992 - February 1993, no. 53 (illustrated).
Dortmund, Museum am Ostwall, Alexeij von Jawlensky. Reisen, Freunde, Wandlungen, August - November 1998 (illustrated).
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
21¼ x 19½ in. (54 x 49.5 cm.)
C. Weiler, Alexej Jawlensky, Cologne, 1959, no. 77 (illustrated p. 232).
M. Jawlensky, L. Pieroni-Jawlensky & A. Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky. Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, vol. I, 1890-1914, London, 1991, no. 397 (illustrated p. 320).
Ferdinand Möller, Cologne.
Felix Peltzer, Stolberg.
Private collection, Southern Germany.
Galerie Alfred Gunzenhauser, Munich.