Throughout his career, Alexej von Jawlensky would always return to the face as a landscape of human emotion. By employing anonymous portraits to express the power and impact of color, Jawlensky believed that "human faces are for me only suggestions to see something else in them – the life of colour, seized with a lover's passion" (quoted in Clemens Weiler, Jawlensky Heads Faces Meditations, London, 1971, p. 12). Infantin, Spanierin (Spanish Infanta), a bold Expressionist composition from 1912-13, is one of his most powerful examples of this motif. Completed at the most important period of the artist's career (fig. 2), it is a distillation of the stylistic concerns that preoccupied Jawlensky and the avant-garde during the early part of the twentieth century.
Infantin, Spanierin reflects the influences that shaped Jawlensky's art and contributed to the development of German Expressionist painting. Although depictions of the Spanish infanta had been a staple in the repertoire of European court painters over the centuries, Jawlensky reinterprets this subject for the modern age, stripping it of any regal, nationalistic or political meaning (fig. 4). Around the time he created this work, Jawlensky was living in Munich and working closely with fellow Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky, of the independent artist group known as "Neue Künstlervereinigung." In 1911, a little over a year before the present work was painted, Kandinsky founded Der Blaue Reiter, an arts periodical that promoted the ideas of this new group and expounded on the value of color and the aesthetic influences of Eastern European folk art. Jawlensky was greatly affected by the ideas of his colleagues, and developed his own expressive style of painting using bold color patches and strong black outlines. The present work is a marvelous example of his new style and exemplifies the concerns of this next wave of German Expressionism.
Jawlensky's reliance upon color as a means of visual expression derived from the examples of the Fauve painters of France. Jawlensky first met these artists, including Henri Matisse and Kees van Dongen (fig. 3), shortly after the Fauves' first exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in 1905. He was inspired by their wild coloration and expressive brushwork, and the works of these artists had a profound impact on his painting for the next several years.
Like Matisse, who famously remarked, "I used color as a means of expressing my emotion and not as a transcription of nature," Jawlensky believed that color communicated the complex emotions of his subjects (quoted in J. & M. Guillaud, Matisse: Rhythm and Line, New York, 1987, p. 24). He demonstrated the effectiveness of his theory in this striking portrait of the Infanta, and in another portrait of the a Spanish woman also completed in 1913 (fig. 1).
Another important influence on Jawlensky's painting during this period was the multi-dimensional approach of the Cubists, whose fragmented and highly abstracted compositions he had seen in Paris. As Clemens Weiler has noted, "Cubism... supplied Jawlensky with the means of simplifying, condensing and stylizing the facial form even further, and this simplified and reduced shape he counterbalanced by means of even more intense and brilliant colouring. This enabled him to give these comparatively small heads a monumentality and expressive power that were quite independent of their actual size" (C. Weiler, Jawlensky, Heads Faces Meditations, London, 1971, p.105).
Spending the summer of 1911 at Prerow on the Baltic, Jawlensky reached an important climax in his career in which he synthesized his reaction to these artistic movements into a personal and unique artistic expression. As Weiler describes, "For him that summer meant the first climax in his creative development. His colours grow as if seen in a state of ecstasy and his shapes are bound powerfully together with broad outlines" (ibid., p. 14).
Infantin, Spanierin is a product of the creative outburst. In the present work, the artist employs a palette of bright blues and greens, rendering the facial features of his sitter with broad strokes. The model in this instance is unknown, but Jawlensky was concerned less by the realistic portrayal of his subject than with capturing the emotional impact of the composition as a whole. In three-quarter profile, the figure turns her head to the viewer in what seems to be a singular and passing moment. Her powerful gaze captures the viewer's attention, and her bright eyes create a provocative focal point for the entire picture. As he once wrote to a prominent art collector, "What you feel in front of my paintings is that which you must feel, and so it seems to you that my soul has spoken to yours – therefore it has spoken." (quoted in J. Demetrion, Alexej Jawlensky: A Centennial Exhibition, Pasadena Art Museum, 1964, p. 22).
Oil on board
Zurich, Galerie Obere Zäune, Stilleben, 1964, no. 3
21 by 19 1/2 in. 53.4 by 49.5 cm
Clemens Weiler, Alexej Jawlensky, Cologne, 1959, no. 124, illustrated p. 235
P. Nizon, "Das Menschenbild bei Jawlensky," in Kunstnachrichten, Heft 1, 1964, illustrated p. 3
Peter Selz, German Expressionist Painting, Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1975, no. 164, illustrated p. 248
Serge Sabarsky, ed., La Peinture expressioniste allemande, Paris, 1990, p. 266, illustrated p. 267
Maria Jawlensky, Lucia Pieroni-Jawlensky & Angelica Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, Volume One 1890-1914, London, 1991, no. 531, illustrated p. 420
Galka Scheyer, Hollywood
S.J. Levin, Saint Louis
Galerie Krugier, Geneva
Leonard Hutton Galleries
Serge and Vally Sabarsky, New York (by 1967)
Sale: Christie's London, June 18, 2007, lot 16
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner