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ALEXEJ VON JAWLENSKY

(1864-1941)

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Biography

Born in 1864, the fifth son of minor Russian nobility, Jawlensky followed his father and brothers into the military, becoming an outstanding fencer and shot in the Russian Imperial Guard. An avid painter, he had himself transferred from Moscow to a St-Petersburg regiment in order to study at the Academy there. Welcomed into the circle of the famous artist, Ilja Rjepin, he came to know Marianne von Werefkin, painter and daughter of the commander of the Peter and Paul Fortress, and through her, Helena Neznamakova, a young debutante.

 

In 1896, at the age of 32, Jawlensky resigned his commission, taking an early retirement pension so that he could devote himself to his painting. Leaving his uniform, paintings and personal documents with his family, he moved to Munich with Marianne and Helena to pursue his studies at Anton Ažbè's well-known art school. There he met another ex-pat, Wassily Kandinsky who became a life-long friend. In 1902, Helena bore him a son, Andreas.

 

Jawlensky exhibited with the Berlin Secessionists in 1903 and 1904. The following year, he made a trip to Brittany and exhibited 10 paintings in the Salon d'Automne in Paris where he met Matisse whose work he esteemed. He visited France frequently and was impressed by Gaugin, Cezanne and the Fauves.  In 1909, he formed the Neue Künstlerverein-igung with Kandinsky and several other artists, scandalizing the public and the critics with their first exhibit.  The group began to break up in 1911 and, although not officially a member, some of Jawlensky's works were shown at the Blaue Reiter show in 1912, a very productive time for him. He also met Paul Klee and Emil Nolde, both of whom he greatly admired.

 

At the outbreak of war in August 1914, Jawlensky and his family had to leave German territory on 48 hours notice, settling until 1921 in Switzerland. In 1915, he showed a painting at an exhibition of Russian exiles in Lausanne, attracting the attention of Emmy Scheyer, whom he nicknamed "Galka" (Jackdaw in Russian). She eventually became his agent, founding the group, Die Blauen Vier (The Blue Four) in 1924 with Jawlensky, Klee, Kandinsky and Feininger, all of whom she represented in America. In 1922, Jawlensky married Helena and, homesick for Germany, they returned to Wiesbaden. That same year, he lost the rest of his family, who had remained in Russia, in the October Revolution. 

 

In 1933, the Nazi regime prohibited the exhibition of his work and, in 1937, confiscated a large number of paintings, several of which were displayed in the Munich exhibition of Degenerate Art.

 

Throughout these trials and tribulations which caused both emotional and financial difficulty, Jawlensky painted several well-known series: vivid portraits in the hieratic poses of orthodox icons, landscape variations and, mostly, the geometric, marginally figurative heads he called meditations. In his later years, he developed severely crippling arthritis but painted through his pain until 1938 when he became completely bedridden. He died in Wiesbaden in March 1941 just after his 77th birthday.