Alexej von Jawlensky

(German, born in Russia, 1867–1941)

Spanish Woman with Mantilla

, 1910
Oil on canvas board, 38 1/4 x 25 1/2 in.
Gift of Owen and Leone Elliott, 1968.57

 

Alexej von Jawlensky approached the canvas as a surface on which he could arrange colors and forms, establishing relationships between the two. Systematic constellations of color and spontaneous flowing forms define and connect with each other in this passionate portrait of the artist's sitter, Helene Nesnakomoff, whom he would marry in 1922.

Jawlensky fuses different artistic legacies to create a painting of a cross-cultural nature. The painting demonstrates many aspects of early twentieth-century French art, as well as the mystique of Spanish subject matter and the uninhibited boldness of Bavarian folk art. For example, Jawlensky's liberal use of highly saturated hues was probably influenced by Matisse, who was his friend and teacher. Additionally, Jawlensky's decision to dress Nesnakomoff in Spanish costume happened at a time when such representations were considered romantically exotic. These disparate elements unite to create a portrait that retains its aesthetic quality and, at the same time, serves as a textbook example of early twentieth-century Modern Art.