The Blue Rider





After six years of training at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, Alexej Jawlensky (1864 – 1941), then thirty-three years old, moved to Munich with his companion Marianne von Werefkin in 1896. The two became acquainted with several artists from the circle around the future Blue Rider. Until 1907, Jawlensky also familiarized himself with the art of the French avant-garde, traveling from Munich to France on several occasions. Influenced by van Gogh, Gauguin, and Matisse, he developed a personal style that became the foundation for his subsequent oeuvre. During the time he spent in Murnau with Kandinsky, Münter, and Werefkin starting in 1908, he in turn profoundly influenced the expressive style of these artists.

Aspects of color and formal composition are central to Jawlensky’s art; iconographical and narrative reference, by contrast, plays only a marginal role. Very early on, he focused on three genres — portrait, still life, and landscape — and eschewed the anecdotal register. His foremost goal was to reduce the picture to its essence; describing this simplified visual language, he spoke of a “synthesis” of the impression of nature and his inner vision. Between 1911 and 1913, he devoted his time to a group of expressive heads, which anticipated the principle of the series that would later generally guide his practice. When the war broke out, Jawlensky left Germany, at first for Saint-Prex on Lake Geneva; in 1918, he moved to Ascona, where the serial and increasingly abstract landscapes of Saint-Prex gave way to two groups of works known as the Mystical Heads and the Faces of Saints. In 1921, Jawlensky ended the relationship with Werefkin, married the mother of his son, Helene Nesnakomoff, and moved to Wiesbaden. Until his death, he mostly devoted himself to depictions of the human fall that ultimately evolved into the Meditations, spiritualized likenesses that, with their rigorously abstracted formal vocabulary, might almost be icons.