Seeking a synthesis between the external world and the experience of the inner world of the artist, the strong colored “abstract heads” of Russian-born German Expressionist painter, Alexey von Jawlensky, are famous for their mystical intensity that expresses his spiritual strivings and convictions.
Best known for his meditative art, Jawlensky was born on March 13, 1864, in Torzhok, a town in Tver Governorate, Russia. In 1889, Jawlensky gave up an established career in the Russian Imperial Guard to study painting under the Russian historical painter Ilya Repin. Disenchanted with realism he moved to Munich in 1896, where he met the painter Wassily Kandinsky, who remained a lifelong influence.
While in France in 1905, Jawlensky worked with the Fauvist painter Henri Matisse, whose flat areas of vibrant colors exerted a further influence on his work. After his return to Munich, Jawlensky met Paul Klee and Franz Marc and joined them and Kandinsky in the most avant-garde artistic group in southern Germany, the ‘Neue Künstler Vereinigung München (New Artists’ Association Munich). However, he was more sympathetic to the ‘Der Blaue Reiter' (The Blue Rider) group, led by Kandinsky.
During World War l Jawlensky painted his ‘Variations’, numerous paintings of the view from his window, which exhibit a new calm, meditative mood that culminates in the semi-abstract faces he began to paint in 1917. A devout man, Jawlensky imbued these frontally viewed faces, such as his ‘Looking within Night' (1923), with mysticism that has led them to be compared to the icons of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Jawlensky spent most of his life in Germany. His color palette was dominated by warm tones such yellows, oranges and especially reds. This can be seen in his abstract portrait pieces. He only painted a handful of landscapes, mostly created during the summer of 1904. He is mainly remembered for his abstract portraits.
In 1924, Jawlensky joined Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Lyonel Feininger in forming a short-lived association called ‘Der Blaue Vier' (The Blue Four). He exhibited with them for some years, but in 1930s crippling arthritis forced him to abandon painting. In 1937, Jawlensky's 72 works were confiscated as “degenerate”. Three years later he died in Wiesbaden, Germany, on March 15, 1941.