Jawlensky, Alexei von BiographyRussian-born painter and printmaker, whose landscapes and portraits feature simplified forms, bright colors, and heavy outlines. Jawlensky spent much of his life in Germany, where he exhibited with like-minded German expressionist painters who also used the distortion or exaggeration of line and color to express emotion.
Born to an aristocratic family in the village of Torzhok, Jawlensky grew up in Moscow, destined by family tradition for a military career. While a teenager he became interested in art, and in 1889 he left the army to enroll at Saint Petersburg's Academy of Art. There he studied with Ilya Repin, an influential Russian painter who depicted historical scenes with realistic detail. In 1896 Jawlensky moved to Germany to study at Munich's Academy of Fine Arts, where he met fellow Russian art student Wassily Kandinsky. But it was Jawlensky's frequent trips to Paris during the early 1900s that had the greatest impact on his style. There he was attracted to the work of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, especially to his use of color to elicit emotion, and was introduced to some of the most advanced art of the time, painted by the Nabis and the fauves. Artists who belonged to these two avant-garde groups also used brilliant colors to intensify the emotional impact of their paintings. The Nabis were followers of French artist Paul Gauguin, especially of his advice to paint what they "dreamed before nature." Jawlensky's desire to express his innermost feelings in his paintings was encouraged by their example. The fauves were even more important to Jawlensky, who adopted their bright color and heavy outlines as his primary means of expression. He exhibited with the fauves in 1905. From 1908 to 1910 he worked closely with Kandinsky and German artist Gabriele M?nter, and together they founded the Neue K?nstlervereinigung M?nchen (New Artists Association Munich) in 1909. In 1912 he joined Kandinsky's Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a diverse group of artists interested in self-expression.
Exiled to Switzerland during World War I (1914-1918), when Germany and Russia were on opposing sides, Alexei von Jawlensky returned to Germany in 1922. Two years later he exhibited his work in the United States as one of the Blue Four, along with Kandinsky, Swiss artist Paul Klee, and an American, Lyonel Feininger. Toward the end of the war Jawlensky had begun to develop a more abstract style and to produce work in series, beginning with Mystical Heads (1917-1919) and Savior's Faces (1918-1920). Both series bear reminders of Russian religious icons seen in his childhood. In these and in his next series, Abstract Heads (or Constructivist Heads; 1921-1935), he sought to reduce the portrait to abstract elements of line and color. His final Meditations series of 1934 to 1937 comprises more than 1000art works and features broad lines and dark, melancholy colors. Progressively crippled by arthritis and, like other artists, facing political persecution under Germany's Nazi regime, Jawlensky abandoned oil painting in 1937.
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