Looking to Jawlensky’s œuvre, this work marks a radical departure in style from the powerful vibrant colours of the artist’s Munich years, and towards a paler palette with delicate and translucent application of paint. Such stylistic transition is closely connected to the traumatic experience of the artist’s expulsion from Germany in 1914, which forced him into exile in Switzerland. Having been forced to desert his social circle and living in straitened circumstances, the artist’s outlook on life and creative motivations changed. In his art, Jawlensky began to work in a new kind of serial painting, that was to become characteristic for the remainder of his career. Jawlensky concentrates on few subjects: the view from his window in Saint Prex and the human face. However, the sheer extent of each series is impressive demonstrating his urge to experiment, and revealing the full potential that lay in formal and chromatic variants.
The artist’s fascination with the human face became dominant from 1917. Following from his series of Mystical Heads, the characteristics of the Saviour’s Face series are the angel-like, and strongly symmetrical faces in frontal representation, formally reminiscent of Russian icons. The rigorously geometric elements in the present work foretell the artist’s future development towards stronger abstraction. The wisdom sign as represented in the work marks a spiritual conception of art and the work may reflect Jawlensky’s preoccupation at this time with questions of the divine-human relationship and life after death. In Saint Prex, Jawlensky read books on Indian yogis, which appear to have had an impact on his painting. Stylistically, Jawlensky no longer uses his distinctive black outlines but resorts to fine outlines in pencil which remain visible through the paint. Individual brush strokes mark out facial features, hair, neck and mouth, which are initially outlined, becoming a cluster of linear paint strokes. Jawlensky's faces become increasingly abstract, no longer depictions of the seen, but lyrical expressions of inward states emanating a mystical radiance, the products of the artist’s inner vision, more original and innovatory than any of Jawlensky’s previous work.
Following years of exile in Switzerland, Jawlensky moved to Wiesbaden in 1922 where an exhibition of his work organised by his close friend Galka Scheyer had been received favourably the previous year. Jawlensky married Marianne von Werefkin’s former maid Hélène Nesnakomoff, the mother of his only son, Andreas. This newly found stability seems to be directly reflected in the contentedness of the present work.
Between 1924 and 1933 the present work was with Galka Scheyer, a painter, dealer and collector who was instrumental in the foundation of Die Blauen Vier in 1924 (the group which included Wassily Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger and Paul Klee as well as Jawlensky) and keenly promoted the work of these artists in the United States, encouraging greater recognition for their work outside Europe. In Galka Scheyer’s care, the work was exhibited in Los Angeles before entering the collection of Dr Guido Bagier, editor of the art magazine Feuer -Monatsschrift für Kunst und künstlerische Kultur, author and film maker. Letters document Jalwenksy’s desire to have Bagier write a book about him.
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