Pulsating with vibrant color and rich, painterly detail, Frau mit grünem Fächer exemplifies Jawlensky's talents as a key figure in Expressionism. This exceptional composition dates from 1912, at the height of the artist's involvement with the Blaue Reiter, and is a distillation of the varied stylistic concerns that preoccupied the Russian ex-patriot and German avant-garde during the early 20th century. Jawlensky would always return to the face as a means to explore the range of human emotion throughout his career. Although we know that the model for the present work was Helene, the artist's wife, Jawlensky preferred anonymous titles for his works so that he could express objectively the power and impact of color. "[H]uman faces are for me only suggestions to see something else in them – the life of colour, seized with a lover's passion" (quoted in C. Weiler, Jawlensky Heads, Faces, Meditations, London, 1971, p. 12).
Frau mit grünem Fächer reflects the stylistic influences that shaped Jawlensky's art and contributed to the development of German Expressionist painting. In 1912, Jawlensky was living in Munich and working closely with fellow Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky of the independent artist group known as "Neue Künstlervereinigung". That same year, Kandinsky founded Der Blaue Reiter, an arts periodical that promoted the ideas of this new group and expounded on the value of color and the aesthetic influences of Eastern European folk art and the religious idolotry of the Russian Orthodox church (fig. 4). Jawlensky was greatly affected by the ideas of his colleagues, and developed his own expressive style of painting using bold color patches and strong black outlines. The present work is a stunning example of his new style and exemplifies the concerns of this wave of German Expressionism.
Jawlensky's reliance upon color as a means of visual expression derived from the examples of the Fauve painters of France. Jawlensky first met these artists, including Henri Matisse (fig. 2) and Kees van Dongen, shortly after the Fauves' premiere exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in 1905. He was inspired by their wild coloration and expressive brushwork, and between 1909-1911 the works of these artists had a profound impact on his painting. Like Matisse, who famously remarked, "I used color as a means of expressing my emotion and not as a transcription of nature", Jawlensky believed that color communicated the complex emotions of his subjects (Jacqueline & Maurice Guillaud, Matisse: Rhythm and Line, New York, 1987, p. 24).
Another important influence on Jawlensky's painting during this period was the multi-dimensional approach of the Cubists, whose fragmented and highly abstract compositions he had seen in Paris (fig. 3). As Clemens Weiler has noted, "Cubism... supplied Jawlensky with the means of simplifying, condensing and stylizing the facial form even further, and this simplified and reduced shape he counterbalanced by means of even more intense and brilliant colouring. This enabled him to give these comparatively small heads a monumentality and expressive power that were quite independent of their actual size" (C. Weiler, op. cit., p.105).
Spending the summer of 1911 at Prerow on the Baltic, Jawlensky reached a pinnacle in his career in which he synthesized his reaction to these artistic movements into a personal and unique artistic expression. As Weiler describes, "For him that summer meant the first climax in his creative development. His colours grow as if seen in a state of ecstasy and his shapes are bound powerfully together with broad outlines" (ibid., p. 14).
Frau mit grünem Fächer is a product of this creative outburst. In the present work, the artist employs a color palette of bright blue, red and green and renders the facial features of his sitter with broad strokes. The model in this instance is known, but Jawlensky was concerned less by the realistic portrayal of his subject than with capturing the emotional impact of the composition as a whole. In three-quarter profile, the figure turns her head to the viewer in what seems to be a singular and passing moment. Her powerful gaze captures the viewer's attention, and her bright eyes create a provocative focal point for the entire picture. As he once wrote to a prominent art collector, "What you feel in front of my paintings is that which you must feel, and so it seems to you that my soul has spoken to yours – therefore it has spoken" (James Demetrion, Alexei Jawlensky: A Centennial Exhibition, Pasadena Art Museum, 1964, p. 22).
Jawlensky kept Frau mit grünem Fächer in his private collection until his death in 1941, at which time it was inherited by his wife and son, Andreas. At a later point, the picture was acquired by Robert Simon, the son of legendary collector Norton Simon, whose eponymous museum is located in Pasadena, California.
Oil on board
Alexej von Jawlensky
Budapest, Nemzeti Szalon, A Futuristák és Expressionisták Kiállitásanak, 1913, no. 63
25 5/8 by 21 1/4 in. 65 by 54 cm
Clemens Weiler, Alexej Jawlensky, Colonge, 1959, no. 109, illustrated p. 234
Clemens Weiler, Jawlensky Heads, Faces, Meditations, London, 1971, no. 119, listed p. 122
Maria Jawlensky, Lucia-Pietroni Jawlensky & Angelica Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, Volume One 1890-1914, London, 1991, no. 471, illustrated p. 363
Estate of the artist
Helene von Jawlensky, Wiesbaden
Andreas Jawlensky, Locarno (the artist's son)
Dalzell Hatfield Gallery, Los Angeles
Robert Simon, California
Sale: Christie's, London, December 2, 1975, lot 93
Leonard Hutton Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above circa 1977