With her rosy cheeks and petulant look up at her viewer, the girl in Mädchen mit roter Schleife appears the embodiment of youthful cheek. Alexej von Jawlensky has filled the picture with a range of incandescent colours that speak of the vitality and potential of youth. These colours, so lively and bold, form a strange contrast with the deliberately grumpy look on the girl's face, a detail that the palette begs us not to take too seriously, and that in fact adds an endearing dimension to the painting.
Mädchen mit roter Schleife was painted in 1911, the year that Jawlensky himself recalled with great pride as the most important breakthrough in his career. It was during this time that he painted his 'most powerful works, referred to as the 'pre-war works'' (Jawlensky, quoted in 'Memoir dictated to Lisa Kümmel, Wiesbaden, 1937', pp. 25-33 in M. Jawlensky, L. Peroni-Jawlensky and A. Jawlensky (ed.), Alexej von Jawlensky: Catalogue Raisonnée of the Oil Paintings: Volume I 1890-1914, London, 1991, p. 31). Mädchen mit roter Schleife clearly falls into this category, sharing with many of the other paintings of the period the bold, Expressionistic palette (Jawlensky listed the bold colours that marked the paintings of this period: ' red, blue, orange, cadmium yellow and chromium-oxide green') and the deft simplification of forms and features in order to intensify their visual impact. This work, then, dates from the most important vintage year of Jawlensky's career, and it is clear, from the virtuosity with which he has rendered his subject, why the pictures from this period have been celebrated, both by the artist and by his critics and supporters alike.
The subject of children had featured in several of Jawlensky's pictures, as it had in the works of several of the other Expressionist painters working in Germany during this period. Often, Jawlensky would show these children holding a doll, a feature that again echoed the depictions of other artists active at that time, for instance Heckel. Here, instead of a toy-like doll-- a symbol of childhood, motherhood and a strange stand-in for the subject herself-- the young girl is shown in a sailor-like outfit. This adds a sense of both play and role-play to Mädchen mit roter Schleife, emphasising the fact that pictures are somehow artificial and thereby circumventing that problem, acknowledging and even embracing the limitations of representation in order to demonstrate that Jawlensky is not seeking merely to capture a sight, but something more...
The role of the child in the paintings of the Expressionists, a loose umbrella term covering a multitude of movements and individuals, sometimes took strange extremes, from the embodiment of innocence to the figures teetering ambiguously on the brink of sexual awareness. Jawlensky has shunned both of these over-simplistic routes of depiction in order to create something that is marked by a far more complex mood, a more complex personality and therefore a more complex and more rounded humanity. In the human face, Jawlensky saw a template in which all the beauty and harmony of the world was captured, a legacy in part of his Russian upbringing and of the role played by religious icons in the Orthodox church. While this aspect of the representation of the face would become codified during the years of the First World War, with works such as the Saviour's Faces and Abstrakt Heads, already in Mädchen mit roter Schleife the earlier stages of this interest can be seen. This, then, is a spiritual subject. The playful cheek, the sulkiness of the girl in her almost comical outfit, is nonetheless used by Jawlensky as an insight into life on a more metaphysical level. The colours pulse with intensity, Jawlensky tapping into the energy of existence, of the divine.
This mystical side to Jawlensky, which would result in his later series of meditative works, had already attracted a group of admirers and had resulted in the formation of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München around him and his compatriot, Kandinsky. The group attracted several Expressionist members, not least Franz Marc who, with Kandinsky, broke away from the NKVM to form the Blaue Reiter group with which Jawlensky would also come to be associated. These movements exemplified the concept of Expressionism as an art that forms an expression, rather than a mere representation-- expressive rather than expressionistic-- and this is an aspect that is perfectly embodied in Mädchen mit roter Schleife.
In the Blue Rider Almanac, published the year after Mädchen mit roter Schleife was painted, Marc celebrated the achievements of the original members of the NKVM: 'In Munich the first and only serious representatives of the new ideas were two Russians who had lived there for many years and had worked quietly until some Germans joined them. Along with the founding of the association began those beautiful, strange exhibitions that drove critics to despair' (Marc, quoted in W. Kandinsky and F. Marc (ed.), The Blaue Reiter Almanac, trans. H. Falkenstein, London, 1974, p. 64). The influence of these two Russians, Kandinsky and Jawlensky, continued to be felt for a long time, and had a marked influence on a whole generation of young German artists who were attracted by the notion that their pictures, 'stimulated thought, and people came to understand that art was concerned with the most profound matters, that renewal must not be merely formal but in fact a rebirth of thinking. Mysticism was awakened in their souls and with it the most ancient elements of art' (Marc, quoted in ibid., p. 64). It is this aim which lies at the heart of Mädchen mit roter Schleife that Jawlensky accomplishes by presenting the child through expressive means, filled with colour. She is an image of childhood, not as a glossy innocence, but in all its complex glory, a perfect embodiment of a new era, of hope, of the potential for growth. In this, one can see that Jawlensky's aim was perfectly in tune with that noted in the Almanac: 'To create out of their work symbols for their own time, symbols that belong on the altars of a future spiritual religion, symbols behind which the technical heritage cannot be seen' (Marc, quoted in ibid., p. 64).
Mädchen mit roter Schleife was split from Hélène (lot 6 and originally recto of the present work) as was the artist's intention per his handlist (see Alexej von Jawlensky Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings Volume One 1890-1914, no. 396, p. 319).
Mädchen mit roter Schleife
Oil on board
PROPERTY FROM THE MAURICE AND VIVIENNE WOHL COLLECTION SOLD TO BENEFIT THE MAURICE AND VIVIENNE WOHL PHILANTHROPIC FOUNDATION
Alexej Von Jawlensky
Alexej Von Jawlensky , 1910s, Paintings, oil, Russia, Modern, portrait
London, Roland Browse and Delbanco, 1958.
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
28¼ x 19 5/8 in. (71.5 x 50 cm.)
The artist's handlist.
C. Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads, Faces, Meditations, London, 1970, no. 80, p. 122.
M. Jawlensky, L. Pieroni-Jawlensky & A. Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, Volume Three
1934-1937, London, 1993, no. 396, verso (illustrated p. 319).
The artist's studio.
Dr E. Mayer, Wiesbaden, by whom acquired from the artist in the 1920s, and thence by descent; sale, Sotheby's, London, 4 December 1968, lot 80 (verso).
Acquired at the above sale by Maurice and Vivienne Wohl.