Ihor Holubizky and Brandi Lee MacDonald
Alexej von Jawlensky (Russian 1864-1941)
Murnauer Landschaft mit drei Heuhafen / Murnau Landscape with Three Haystacks, 1908-1909
oil on cardboard
33 x 42.6 cm
Levy Bequest Purchase, 1995
To view an interactive image comparison of this artwork:
Private collection, Switzerland (likely Mrs. Zumsteg of Birsfelden, near Basel)
Museum purchase Galerie Thomas, Munich, 1995
Galerie Max Knöll, Basel, Switzerland, October 1927
Ideals and Illusion, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 9 April- 11 June 1995
Chroma, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 27 August – 22 October 1995
The Levy Legacy, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 1 September – 3 November 1996
Inner Nature, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 14 June – 16 August 1998
Geist, McMaster Museum of Art, Sherman Gallery, 6 September – 25 October 1998
The Vaults Revealed: Modern European Masters, McMaster Museum of Art, Sherman Gallery, 3 November – 1 December2002
Permanent collection galleries of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, 14 November 2007-30 November 2009
125 & 45: An Interrogative Spirit, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 20 January – 4 August 2012
Alexej von Jawlensky was initially trained in St. Petersburg, Russia. After moving to Germany in 1896, he continued his studies at the private school of the Slovene painter Anton Ažbe in Munich, where he first met the Russian expatriate artist Wassily Kandinsky. Jawlensky is considered to be an important figure in the formative period of German Expressionism before the Second World War, whosenfluences included Vincent van Gogh and Henri Matisse;[i] Jawlensky visited Matisse in 1905, and returned to work in his atelier in 1907.[ii] The McMaster painting was done during a period of his early association with Kandinsky and the German artist Gabriele Münter. The three spent time in the Murnau region of Bavaria, seventy kilometres south of Munich, where Kandinsky and Münter purchased a country home in 1909. Working in close proximity and sharing ideas and affinities, many comparisons can be made in their respective works including a simplification of form and the use of bold colours, which Münter said was also inspired by the historical stained-glass work of the Murnau region.[iii] In a 1958 interview with Münter, the poet and author Eduardo Roti observed, “I…was immediately struck by the colours of the [Murnau] landscape: the unmodified bright green of the pastures, the equally flat blue tones of the distant mountains, all justified the technique of those early landscapes of Kandinsky, Jawlensky and Franz Marc…suggesting receding planes rather than perspectives.”[iv] Their work would lead to the formation of two artists’ associations to promote new attitudes towards modern art: the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists Association of Munich), founded by Kandinsky and Jawlensky in early 1909; and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), created by Kandinsky and Franz Marc in 1911.[v]
Jawlensky was not formally associated with Der Blaue Reiter, which was an informal group, although his work was included in their 1913 exhibition at the Sturm Gallery, Berlin.[vi] Nonetheless, his importance to the group is evident in Kandinsky’s description of Der Blaue Reiter’s starting point as “the idea that the artist not only receives new impressions from the world outside, from nature, but that he also gathers experiences from the inner world” (hence, “expressionism”).[vii] Jawlensky himself asserted that “nature serves [the artist] only as a key to the organ in his soul, metaphorically speaking.”[viii]
The group functionally ended with the beginning of the Second World War—two of the members, Marc and August Macke, were killed in action—and both Jawlensky and Kandinsky were expelled from Germany in 1914. Jawlensky moved to Switzerland, which most likely explains the Swiss provenance of the McMaster painting. Although short-lived, as was the case with many radical artist groups during that time in Europe and Russia, Der Blaue Reiter nonetheless established a presence that extended beyond the German milieu, and in turn led to the creation of Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four)—Jawlensky, Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Lionel Feininger—by the German art dealer Emmy “Galka” Scheyer in 1924.[ix] Der Blaue Reiter continues to have a modern mythic presence because it embraced a broader spirit of cultural inquiry that pointed to a “renaissance in thought.”[x]
Jawlensky returned to Germany in 1921, but suffered the fate of many advanced artists during the National Socialist period. His work was declared ideologically incorrect and seventy-two of his works were removed from German museums (approximately sixteen thousand works by other artists met the same fate[xi]); he was forbidden to exhibit and six of his works were included in the 1937 Entartete Kunst (meaning “degenerate art”) exhibition held in Munich, a de facto public trial and humiliation of modern art.[xii] Jawlensky’s health began to deteriorate, and because of increasing arthritis pain and financial hardships, he stopped working in 1938.[xiii]
Murnau Landscape with Three Haystacks is one of only two paintings by Jawlensky in a Canadian public collection; the other, The Blue Mantilla (1913), is a portrait in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
[i] According to Donald E. Gordon, Jawlensky purchased a Van Gogh landscape in 1904. See Gordon, Expressionism: Art and Idea (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987), 84.
[ii] Stephanie Barron, “Degenerate Art”: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991), 260. See also Dietmar Elger, Expressionism. A Revolution in German Art (Cologne, Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag, 1989), 106.
[iii] Eduardo Roti, Dialogues on Art (London: Secker & Warburg, 1960), 142. Examples of Murnau region works are in the Lenbachhaus Collection, Munich: http://www.lenbachhaus.de/collection/the-blue-rider/murnau/?L=1 (n.d.). The Collection also holds Münter’s portrait of Jawlensky, titled Listening, 1909.
[iv] Roti, Dialogues on Art, 134.
[v] Jawlensky, along with Kandinsky, Münter, and Marc, also exhibited with the Neue Secession/NKVM in Berlin from November 1911 to January 1912. See Gordon, Expressionism: Art and Idea, 93.
[vi] Jawlensky had a solo exhibition at Sturm Gallery in February 1914. Ibid., 101.
[vii] Elger, Expressionism, 168.
[viii] Cited in Hans K. Roethel, The Blue Rider (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), 47.
[ix] Emmy “Galka” Scheyer (1889–1945) promoted Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four) in the United States with numerous exhibitions mounted from the mid-1920s to the early 1930s, including the Oakland Art Museum in 1926. See Peg Weiss, The Blue Four (New York: Leonard Hutton Galleries, 1984), 7–12. Earlier, Scheyer organized a large solo exhibition of Jawlensky’s work in Weisbaden. See Barron, “Degenerate Art,” 260.
[x] Paul Vogt, Expressionism: German painting, 1905–1920 (Cologne, Germany: DuMont Buchverlag, 1979), 90. See also Roethel, The Blue Rider, 11–16.
[xi] Anita Kühnel, “Entartete Kunst,” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, Accessed March 22, 2015, from http://www.moma.org/collection/details.php?theme_id=10077.
[xii] Barron, “Degenerate Art,” 260–61. See also Ian Dunlop, The Shock of the New (New York: American Heritage Press, 1972), 224–59.
[xiii] Barron, “Degenerate Art,” 260–61.