PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
Executed in bold swathes of vibrant colour, Alexej Jawlensky's Infantin (Spanierin) belongs to the brief yet dynamic period of creative activity that began with the artist’s stylistic epiphany on the Baltic coast in 1911 and ended with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Referring to this period as ‘the turning-point’ in his art, Jawlensky believed that the works he produced during this period were among the most powerful of all his artistic achievements. Focusing almost exclusively on portraits of female sitters, the paintings of these years are characterised by simplified forms, juxtapositions of vibrant, complementary colours, gestural brushstrokes and stark outlines as he sought to emancipate the artistic image from its resemblance to nature. As the artist later recalled in his memoirs, during these years he ‘painted large figure paintings in powerful, glowing colours and not at all naturalistic or objective. I used a great deal of red, blue, orange, yellow, and chromium-oxide green. My forms were strongly contoured and came with tremendous power from an inner ecstasy’ (Jawlensky, quoted in C. Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads Faces Meditations, New York, 1971, p 98).
During these years, Jawlensky produced many portraits of figures dressed colourfully or in exotic attire, his fascination with cultural types crossing a spectrum of identities, from the women of Sicily, to figures such as Barbarian Princess, 1912, Byzantine Woman, 1913, and Creole Woman, 1913. Amongst these were several studies of Spanish women, often wearing a traditional black lace mantilla, or draped in diaphanous veils and adorned with colourful flowers in their hair. In these works, Jawlensky may be seen to be reacting to a widespread vogue for Spanish themes in European art that the artist likely encountered through his close contact with the Fauves in Paris. For most of the 19th century, an orientalist fantasy of Spanish culture pervaded French music, literature and theatre, producing notable works such as Manet's Mademoiselle V in the Costume of an Espada, 1862, and Young Woman Reclining in Spanish Costume, 1862-1863. By the early Twentieth Century, the idea of an exotic and colourful Iberian culture had carried over into works by Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck and their colleagues, which Jawlensky saw when he exhibited six paintings at the Salon d'Automne in 1905. Indeed, the expressive colour, dark outlines, and decorative flowers in the present painting echo Matisse's Spanish Woman with a Tambourine, 1909, now housed in the collections of the Pushkin Museum, Moscow.
Jawlensky's penchant for painting costumed figures in this period may also relate to his contact with the expatriate Russian modern dancer, Alexander Sacharoff and his wife, Clotilde von Derp. Seeking out the experimental, intellectual climate that had attracted Jawlensky to Munich at the turn of the century, Sacharoff joined the Neue Künstlervereinigung (New Artist's Association) that Jawlensky, Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter, Marianne von Werefkin and others had founded in 1909. The members of this group, many of whom later formed the Blaue Reiter, enthusiastically greeted his sensual and androgynous approach to dance as an expression of the self. Posing with the Jawlenskys in a group photo from a fancy dress ball in 1913, Clotilde von Derp appears in a Spanish costume complete with shawl, fan, and veil, while Sacharoff wears an elaborate sash and white turban with a large black feather. The exotic costumes from the couple's performances also became the subject of numerous paintings and drawings by Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin. As Jawlensky recalled in 1937: ‘In those days we were always together and he visited us almost every day. We discussed his entire training together. I always watched how he danced. He also knew and understood my art very well’ (quoted in ibid, p.106).
In Infantin (Spanierin), the artist’s future wife, Helene Neznakomova, is cast in the role of the Spanish woman adorned with a bright blue headdress or shawl while four large blooms frame her face, their stems tucked into her hair. Helene was a figure of great importance in Jawlensky’s life, his model, muse, and lover who became the inspiration for many of his greatest works. Alexej and Helene had first met when she was just fourteen years old, while the artist was visiting the family estate of his companion and mistress, Marianne von Werefkin. The daughter of a merchant family of the Werefkin’s acquaintance, Helene was also staying with the family at the time, and subsequently accompanied Marianne and Jawlensky back to Munich, as Marianne’s personal maid. Jawlensky and Helene soon began a relationship, which grew over a number of years and culminated in the birth of the couple’s son, Andreas, in 1902. For much of their relationship the pair continued to live with Marianne, in a complex ménage a trois, which only came to an end in the 1920s.
While Helene sat for Jawlensky throughout their relationship, many of the artist’s portraits of his partner eschewed an accurate portrayal of her features, and instead used her form as a conduit through which he could explore the spiritual concerns of his art. This is evident in the present work, where Helene’s face is elongated, her eyes enlarged to preternatural proportions to emphasize the power of her gaze, and her features captured in an array of vibrant, expressive strokes of paint. The electric blue veil enveloping her, meanwhile, appears as a halo, surrounding her head in a luminous shimmer of bright colour, which is echoed in the shadows that dance across her face. By reducing traces of his sitter’s individuality, expunging the idiosyncrasies of her appearance in pursuit of a more generalised character, Helene’s heavily stylised and geometric facial features appear mask-like. This allows Jawlensky to use his model as a vehicle for his own experimentations in expressing an inner, subjective vision of the world, rendering her as an archetypal character rather than an identifiable person. As a result, Jawlensky frees himself from the need to slavishly reproduce an accurate representation of Helene’s appearance and character, instead creating a blank canvas upon which he can project his own personal view of the world.
It is a tribute to the strength of Jawlensky’s vision that many of the people who came into contact with him would become devotees, his intense spiritualism and profound, almost religious, belief in his art proving hugely influential. One of the artist’s greatest supporters was Emmy 'Galka' Scheyer, the first owner of Infantin (Spanierin). Galka entered Jawlensky's orbit as a student, but was so impressed by his approach to painting that she abandoned her own efforts, realising that she could never attain such a purity of intent or level of genius in her painting. Instead, she devoted herself to promoting Jawlensky's work, becoming the artist’s principal dealer in America during the 1920s and 30s. Their friendship ultimately led to the creation of The Blue Four, a small group of artists that included Jawlensky, Wassily Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger and Paul Klee, its name chosen to allude to the artists’ previous association with the Blaue Reiter group. While The Blue Four was not an official association, through it Galka sought to make the work and ideas of these artists better known to an American audience through exhibitions, lectures and sales. Her promotion of the Blue Four during this period proved indispensable to Jawlensky, providing him with not only an essential source of income, but also a wealth of intellectual and emotional support when he needed it most.
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PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
signed 'A. Jawlensky' (lower left); signed, dated and inscribed 'N1O Spanierin 1913 A. Jawlensky' (on the reverse)
Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
Zurich, Galerie Obere Zäune, Stilleben, September 1964, no. 3 (dated 1913).
New York, Leonard Hutton Galleries, A Centennial Exhibition of Paintings by Alexej Jawlensky, February - March 1965, no. 26 (illustrated; dated ‘1913’).
New York, Serge Sabarsky Gallery, Alexej Jawlensky Paintings, January - March 1975, no. 3 (dated '1912').
New York, Serge Sabarsky Gallery, An Exhibition of Works by Alexej Jawlensky, February - March 1979, no. 22.
New York, Serge Sabarsky Gallery, Portraits by Alexej Jawlensky, March - May 1982, no. 12.
Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Alexej Jawlensky 1864-1941, February - April 1983, no. 102 (illustrated p. 209); this exhibition later travelled to Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, May - June 1983.
Vienna, Oesterreichische Galerie Neues Belvedere, Malerei des Deutschen Expressionismus, September - October 1987 (illustrated p. 275); this exhibition later travelled to Graz, Kulturhaus, November - December 1987; and Linz, Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum, February - April 1988.
Bari, Castello Svevo, From Kandinsky to Dix: Paintings of the German Expressionists, May - June 1989, p. 100 (illustrated p. 101; dated '1912' and titled 'Infantin (Spanish Princess)'; this exhibition later travelled to Genoa, Museo di Villa Croce, July - September 1989; and Roslyn, Nassau County Museum of Art, November - December 1989.
C. Weiler, Alexej Jawlensky, Cologne, 1959, no. 124 (illustrated p. 235; dated '1912').
P. Nizon, 'Das Menschenbild bei Jawlensky', in Kunstnachrichten, vol. 1, no. 1, September 1964 (illustrated p. 3).
P. Selz, German Expressionist Painting, Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1974, no. 164, p. 248 (illustrated; dated '1912').
S. Sabarsky, ed., La peinture expressionniste allemande, Paris, 1990, p. 266 (illustrated p. 267).
M. Jawlensky, L. Pieroni-Jawlensky & A. Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, vol. I, 1890-1914, London, 1991, no. 531, p. 407 (illustrated p. 420; dated '1912').
H. Haider, ed., Ich, Serge Sabarsky, Vienna, 1997, p. 36 (illustrated p. 107; dated '1912').
Emmy 'Galka' Scheyer, Hollywood, by whom acquired directly from the artist.
S.J. Levin, St Louis, by 1957.
Galerie Krugier, Geneva.
Leonard Hutton Galleries, New York.
Serge & Vally Sabarsky, New York, by 1967, and thence by descent; sale, Christie’s, London, 18 June 2007, lot 16.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.