Maria Jawlensky, Lucia Pieroni-Jawlensky & Angelica Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings 1890-1914, London, 1991, vol. I, no. 520, illustrated p. 402 (with incorrect measurements)
Around 1912 Jawlensky executed three paintings on the subject of a meditating woman (fig. 1), and the present work is the most accomplished of this group. Jawlensky returned to the subject of the human face throughout his career, rendering it in various degrees of abstraction. As the artist himself declared: '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). Throughout his early work, Jawlensky used a number of sitters, usually female, for his portraits, and this subject allowed him to explore a variety of pictorial arrangements as well as a range of human emotions. Unlike many other models depicted with wide open eyes (fig. 2) looking straight at the viewer, Die Sinnende is painted with a more elusive gaze, not directly confronting the viewer, placing her in a world of meditative inner contemplation.
The present work reflects the many stylistic influences that shaped Jawlensky's art and contributed to the development of German Expressionist painting. Around the time he created this work, the artist was living in Munich and worked closely with Kandinsky, who founded Der Blaue Reiter in 1912. Jawlensky's reliance upon colour as a means of visual expression derived from the examples of the Fauve painters working in France. Jawlensky first met these artists, including Matisse and Van Dongen, shortly after the Fauves' seminal exhibition at the Salon d'Automne of 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 color as means of expressing my emotion and not as a transcription of nature', Jawlensky believed that colour communicated the complex emotions of his subjects (quoted in Jacqueline & Maurice Guillaud, Matisse: Rhythm and Line, New York, 1987, p. 24).
Volker Rattemeyer wrote about the influences of Fauve artists visible in Jawlensky's portraits executed around the time the present work was painted: 'The manner in which the vivid colours and blue/black contours begin to focus on specific features - eyes, nose and mouth - seems to have been inspired by Van Dongen. In contrast to the overt sensuality of Van Dongen's female portraits, Jawlensky's are dominated by an introspective seriousness' (V. Rattemeyer, Alexej von Jawlensky (exhibition catalogue), Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1994, p. 77). Indeed, with her head resting pensively on her arm, the woman in the present work has an introvert, inquisitive character. Although portrayed frontally, her gaze is directed to the side, looking beyond the viewer, emphasising the intangible, meditative quality suggested by the title of the work.
Looking back at the pre-war years, the artist himself identified this phase in his career as crucial: 'I painted my finest [...] figure paintings in powerful, glowing colours and 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 [...] It was a turning point in my art' (quoted in 'Memoir dictated to Lisa Kümmel, 1937', in M. Jawlensky, L. Pieroni-Jawlensky & A. Jawlensky, op. cit., p. 31). His abandoning of representational function of colour in favour of a more spontaneous, expressive one is strongly reminiscent of Matisse's portraits at the height of his Fauve period (fig. 3).
This range of vivid colours is present in Die Sinnende in the bright palette used to depict the woman's face, executed in a combination of vibrant blue, red, yellow and green tones applied in broad, free brushstrokes. The straight lines of the woman's nose and mouth, and the thin, lightly curved eyebrows, herald the series of highly abstract, linear faces to which Jawlensky would turn later in his career, producing a series known as Meditations.
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