Marianne von Werefkin
Tula 1870 - 1938 Ascona
Tempera on firm artist's board. 64 x 50 cm. Framed. Unsigned. Verso with old information on the artist and the sitter by an unknown hand. - The colours very fresh.
Acquired directly from the artist; in family possession since
Murnau 2000 (Schlossmuseum), 'Marianne Werefkin in Murnau. Kunst und Theorie, Vorbilder und Künstlerfreunde', cat. no. 35 with colour illus. p. 81; Murnau 2008 (Schlossmuseum), 1908/2008. 'Vor 100 Jahren. Kandinsky, Münter, Jawlensky, Werefkin in Murnau', cat. no. 61 with colour illus. p. 141
The image of Rosalia Leiß is not only an impressive portrait but also a characteristic and captivating work by the Russian artist Marianne von Werefkin, co-founder of the N.K.V.M., which the artists group Der Blaue Reiter later grew out of, and long-time partner of Alexej von Jawlensky.
Having personally trained with Ilya Repin and other well-known artists at a young age, she decided to support Jawlensky's work as an artist. She was financially independent on account of a pension from the czar, and she moved to Munich in 1896, together with Jawlensky. They travelled to France together in 1906 in order to study there.
Werefkin felt a bond with the art of the Nabis and the work of van Gogh, Gauguin, Bernard and Anquetin, and she would later pass these ideas on to Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter, with whom she and Jawlensky would become friends in Munich during the following years (Bernd Fäthke, Marianne Werfkin - “des blauen Reiterreiterin”, in: exhib. cat. Marianne Werefkin: Vom Blauen Reiter zum Großen Bären, Städtische Galerie Bietigheim-Bissingen/Museen Böttcher Straße/Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum Bremen 2014, p. 44). Together, but independently, they discovered Murnau as a rural place of refuge - in 1909 Münter would purchase a house there, the so-called “Russian house”. Initially, however, they stayed at an inn during the summer months from 1907 to 1909.
Their occupation with local farmers' folk art provided a source from which they drew new artistic impulses in a way that might be compared with how the Brücke artists of Dresden sought their salvation in the tribal art of Oceania and Africa during their search for a pristine naturalness.
Kandinsky and his artist friends were particularly fascinated by reverse-glass painting, and works by Werefkin based on this Bavarian form of painting also exist (Fäthke, op. cit., fig. 48, 49). She was additionally interested in the Bavarian farmers themselves and their customs.
On the one hand, the image of Rosalia Leiß is defined by the simplicity of its forms; on the other hand, the precisely modelled face of the sitter stands out in contrast to them. The portrait's exceptional interest feeds on this dichotomy: generalised forms reminiscent of the simple two-dimensionality of reverse-glass painting paired with an individual linearity. The tonality in various shades of green is subtly combined with violet. Here Werefkin establishes a complementary contrast between two secondary colours. Rosalia's cool eyes rest on the viewer with a searching gaze that almost seems a little amused. The 74-year-old embodies dignity and self-confidence, not as a simple farmer, but as the “wife of the agriculturalist” Leiß mentioned on the reverse side. The advanced nature of Werefkin's concept of painting becomes obvious through a comparison with Gabriele Münter's painted portrait of the same model from the following year, in which neither psychological depth nor a dialogue with the viewer is pursued (see comparative illus.).
“The opening of the first exhibition of the N.K.V.M. took place on 1 December 1909, with 16 artists. It 'then became a major exhibition in Munich', said Jawlensky. […] Jawlensky was represented by eleven works in the exhibition. Werefkin presented six paintings, including 'Schuhplattler', a painting in which she pays tribute to Bavarian customs. […]Werefkin's 'Schuhplattler' and her reverse-glass paintings demonstrate that the Russian painter was committed to supporting Bavarian folk art.” (Fäthke, op. cit., p. 46).
Werefkin's 1908 portrait of Rosalia Leiß was not shown at this exhibition of the “Neue Künstlervereinigung München” and instead remained with the family of the sitter.