Karl Im Obersteg, Basel (on loan from the artist and placed in storage by July 1933)
Maison Schulthess, Basel (on commission by July 1933, possibly sold)
Karen Jean Bunting, Kansas City
Serge Sabarsky Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in October 1981)
Max Palevsky, Beverly Hills (acquired from the above in September 1985)
Thence by descent to the present owner
Roter Hut 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, Jawlensky 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 this time, including the present work: ‘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 large, wide open eyes, the woman in the present work has an introvert, inquisitive character. Portrayed frontally with her head slightly tilted, she is looking straight ahead, capturing the viewer’s attention with her dark almond-shaped eyes that appear to be the focal point of the composition.
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). This range of vivid colours is present in Roter Hut in the bright palette used to depict the woman’s face, executed in a combination of vibrant yellow, red and green tones, as well as in her bright red hat and clothes. In a composition dominated by broad, free brushstrokes the woman’s facial features, carefully contoured in black, stand out, emphasising the beauty of her lips, her elongated almond-shaped eyes and eyebrows.
Roter Hut remained in Jawlensky’s studio until 1933 when it was taken to Basel and put into safe keeping by his friend Karl Im Obersteg. At some point the present work was handled by Galka Scheyer, as is evidenced by her inscriptions on the reverse of the work. Scheyer was an artist and art dealer who in March 1924 had founded the Blue Four. This group, whose members were Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger and Jawlensky was formed by Scheyer to promote German Modernism and find American buyers who were considerably more able to afford their work than their European counterparts. She set about promoting their work in a series of exhibitions that travelled throughout the United States and Mexico. Roter Hut was subsequently acquired by the Beverly Hills based entrepreneur Max Palevsky, who was an avid collector of German Expressionism and a committed philanthropist.
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