Lot 28
  • 28

Alexej von Jawlensky

1,600,000 - 2,200,000 GBP
1,805,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Alexej von Jawlensky
  • Frauenkopf (Head of a Woman)
  • oil on board


Dr Rusche, Cologne

Victor Achter, Mönchengladbach (acquired from the above in 1946)

Thence by descent to the present owner

Catalogue Note

Frauenkopf was painted around 1913, at the height of the artist's involvement with the Blaue Reiter, and is a distillation of the varied stylistic concerns that preoccupied the Alexej von Jawlensky during the early 20th century. Jawlensky would always return to the face as a means to explore the range of human emotion throughout his career. His compositions, even when the models can be identified, are generally titled anonymously so that he could express objectively the power and impact of colour.  As the artist himself proclaimed: ‘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). 

The present work reflects the stylistic influences that shaped Jawlensky's art and contributed to the development of German Expressionist painting. In 1912, Jawlensky was living in Munich and working closely with a fellow Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky of the independent artist group known as ‘Neue Künstlervereinigung’. That same year, Kandinsky founded Der Blaue Reiter, an arts periodical that promoted the ideas of this new group and expounded on the value of colour and the aesthetic influences of Eastern European folk art and the religious idolatry of the Russian Orthodox church. Jawlensky was greatly affected by the ideas of his colleagues, and developed his own expressive style of painting using bold colour patches and strong black outlines. Frauenkopf is a stunning example of his new style and exemplifies the ideas and concepts developed by this wave of German Expressionism.

Jawlensky's reliance upon colour as a means of visual expression derived from the examples of the Fauve painters working in France in the previous decade. Jawlensky first met these artists, including Matisse and Van Dongen, shortly after the Fauves' premiere exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in 1905. He was inspired by their wild colouration and expressive brushwork, and between 1909 and 1911 the works of these artists had a profound impact on his painting. Like Matisse, who famously remarked, ‘I used colour as a means of expressing my emotion and not as a transcription of nature’, Jawlensky believed that colour communicated the complex emotions of his subjects (Jacqueline & Maurice Guillaud, Matisse: Rhythm and Line, New York, 1987, p. 24).

Another important influence on Jawlensky's painting during this period was the multi-dimensional approach of the Cubists, whose fragmented and highly abstract 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, op. cit., p. 105).

During the summer of 1911 Jawlensky synthesised 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). Frauenkopf reflects this development, executed with a palette of bright blue, red, yellow and purple tones and rendering the facial features of the model with broad, dynamic brushstrokes. In three-quarter profile, the figure turns her head to the viewer. Her powerful gaze captures our attention, and her bright eyes create a provocative focal point of the entire composition. As Jawlensky 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 Alexei Jawlensky: A Centennial Exhibition (exhibition catalogue), Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, 1964, p. 22).