After the Mapfre Foundation in Madrid and the Cantini Museum in Marseille, the Roubaix Pool is hosting a beautiful and important exhibition by Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941). It was conceived by the art historian Itzhak Goldberg, who had chosen the painter, and in particular his series of “Geometric heads”, which runs from 1921 to 1935, as the subject of his thesis.
This is to say that we dreaded the visit: the serial repetition of the same face, that is to say a mouth and two eyes for the horizontals, a nose – a simple line in « L » – for the vertical, all in an oval blur framed by a few rare curves representing hair, it can be boring …
Jawlensky will never take the step that would have led him towards abstraction: even simplified to the extreme, his paintings remain figurative.
Well, not at all ! We discover in Roubaix a much richer and more complex painter than that of our student memories. With nearly one hundred and thirty works, the exhibition covers the full extent of his work, confronts it with examples of those of his contemporaries, such as Derain, Matisse, Vlaminck or Van Dongen, but also with artists who were closer to him. , such as Marianne von Werefkin, Gabriele Münter and Vassily Kandinsky. But, despite his proximity to the latter, Jawlensky would never take the step that would have led him towards abstraction: even simplified to the extreme, his paintings remain figurative.
The tone is set upon entering the exhibition, with two self-portraits. The first is that of a dandy wearing a top hat. It was painted in 1904, when the artist had only recently left the studio of his compatriot Ilya Répine – welcomed, until January 23, 2022, by a retrospective at the Petit-Palais in Paris. The latter taught him solid foundations and a sacred principle: do not stay too long at the academy! What he demonstrates in this painting, streaked with wild touches in shades that are no less so.
« Touched by grace »
The second represents him eight years later. The hat has disappeared, revealing the beginnings of baldness, the face has thickened a lot, the pictorial touch too. The portrait is frontal, the color chords bordering on dissonance, the blue eye fixes the viewer and, despite the density of the material, he anticipates in his construction what will later be the famous « Geometric Heads ».
» I understood, wrote the painter, in 1938, about his faces, to the artist Jan “Willibrord” Verkade, a painter from the Nabis group, who became a monk, that great painting is only possible with a religious feeling. » How to blame a Russian for painting icons? Because, if he made his career a little in France, a lot in Germany, then in Switzerland, where he took refuge at the beginning of the First World War, Jawlensky was born in Torjok, a city located northwest of Moscow, where his father, a colonel in the imperial army, was quartered. He himself embarked on a military career until a visit to the Universal Exhibition of 1880 in Moscow revealed the painting to him: « I was touched by grace, like the apostle Paul during his conversion… »
You have 48.75% of this article to read. The rest is for subscribers only.