Alexej von Jawlensky was born in Torzhok, Russia, on 13 March 1864. At the age of ten, Jawlensky moved to Moscow with his family, serving in the Tsarist Army before enrolling at the St. Petersburg Art Academy in 1889. Studying under Ilya Repin until 1896, Jawlensky eventually grew disillusioned and moved to Munich to study at the private school Anton Ažbe. In Munich, Jawlensky met Wassily Kandinsky, after which his academic style became more avant-garde, utilising a rich palette and freer forms. Between 1905 and 1907, Jawlensky made several sojourns to France where he encountered the work of the Post-Impressionist and Fauves, including Paul Cézanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse. In 1909, Jawlensky contributed to the formation of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München, only to renounce his membership in 1912 to join the Expressionist movement Der Blaue Reiter.
Around this time, Jawlensky’s most recurrent and recognisable motif began to preoccupy the artist – the human head – and would prove to do so for the rest of his life in a synthesis of Russian folk iconography and Fauvist liberation of colour to evoke spiritual and universal truths. In 1917, Jawlensky began his iconic series of Mysticher Kopf (‘Mystic Heads’), followed the next year by his series of Abstrakter Kopf (‘Abstract Heads’). Forced to emigrate to Switzerland during the First World War, he returned to Germany in 1922, settling in Wiesbaden. Two years later, Jawlensky formed Der Blaue Vier with Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Lyonel Feininger, which taught, promoted and exhibited Der Blaue Reiter ideas and aesthetics across Western Europe, as well as in the United States and Mexico. From 1929, Jawlensky suffered from progressively crippling arthritis, eventually having to stop painting altogether in 1937. The following year, he began to dictate his memoirs. Jawlensky died on 15 March 1941 in Wiesbaden.
The most important collections of Jawlensky’s work can be found in the Museum Wiesbaden and the Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund. Jawlensky’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Kunstmuseum Basel; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
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