Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Marianne von Werefkin

 Marianne von Werefkin, Self-Portrait, 1910

Marianne von Werefkin (1860-1938), a member of ancient Russian nobility, was born in the Russian town of Tula (where her father was the commander of the Ekaterinaburg Regiment). She was well educated  and the young girl's artistic talents were recognised early and encouraged. She had her first private academic drawing lessons at the age of fourteen. Marianne began her studies with  Illarion Prjanischnikow, a member of the Peredwischniki (travelling painters), to whom she was introduced by Ilya Repin, one of the the most important painters of Russian Realism. 

 Marianne von Werefkin, Autumn (School), 1907

In 1886, her father moved his family to St. Peterburg where he was appointed Commander of the famous Peter and Paul Fortress. Marianne von Werefkin now could take private lessons with Repin himself. She had her own studio in the fortress and another one on her family's Lithuanian estate which Marianne felt was her true native country. While hunting there in 1888 she accidentally shot her right hand which remained crippled after a lengthy period of recovery. By practising persistently she finally managed to use drawing and painting instruments with her right hand again. 

 Marianne von Werefkin, Police sentinel in Vilnius, 1914

In 1891 Werefkin met the painter Alexej von Jawlensky, who deeply fascinated her and who went with her when she settled in  Munich five years later. Supporting and sponsoring Jawlensky's artistic education, she put aside her own work for ten years and initiated her Pink Salon in Munich which soon became a centre of lively artistic exchange and ultimately the nucleus to the New Artists Association of Munich (NKVM) and the Blauer Reiter group.

Alexej von Jawlensky, Portrait of the dancer Alexander Sacharoff, 1909

A private crisis with Jawlensky culminated in 1902 and Marianne von Werefkin was so badly affected that she needed to recover during extensive travels in France. She began painting again in 1906. After their discovery of the picturesque bavarian town of Murnau in 1908, she and Jawlensky spent several working sessions there with Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter.

Wasssily Kandinsky, Houses in Murnau on Obermarkt, 1908
Werefkin produced her first Expressionist paintings in 1907. Stylistically, she followed the theories of van Gogh, Edvard Munch, the tone-on-tone paintings by Louis Anquetin, and the ideas of the Nabis. In the circle of her friends in Munich, she was given the nickname "the Frenchwoman." In 1909 she met the Swiss painter Cuno Amiet who would later become, together with Paul Klee, one of her closest supporters during her years of exile in Switzerland. 

 Gabriele  Münter, Portrait of Marianne von Werefkin, 1909

The same year, Werefkin visited her brother Peter, Governor of Russian Lithuania, in Kaunas. In 1910, Franz Marc made contact with the artists of the NKVM. Marc later said that it was primarily the influence of Werefkin and Jawlensky, which opened his eyes to a new art. When Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc distanced themselves from the NKVM and formed the "Blauer Reiter", Werefkin also began exhibiting with this group in 1913 at Herwarth Walden's Berlin gallery. 

 Marianne von Werefkin, The Lonely Path, c. 1910

At the outbreak of the First World War, Werefkin and Jawlensky had to leave Germany within 24 hours and immigrated to Switzerland, near Geneva. They later moved to Zurich. By 1918, Werefkin and Jawlensky separated, and Werefkin moved alone to Ascona, on Lago Maggiore. In the same year, during the Russian Revolution, Werefkin's generous Russian state pension was canceled, and she also lost her Russian citizenship. As a stateless person she had to live with a Nansen passport and never assumed any nationality again. To protect herself from poverty, Werefkin now started to paint posters, and was also financially supported by friends, namely Carmen and Diego Hagmann.

 Marianne von Werefkin: La Famiglia (The Family), 1922

Marianne von Werefkin died in Ascona on 6 February, 1938. Many of her paintings and her literary legacy is kept in the Fondazione Marianne Werefkin in Ascona. Through donations, this foundation now owns almost 100 paintings. They also own 170 sketchbooks and hundreds of drawings. Part of it can be seen in the permanent collection of the Museo d'arte moderna communale in Ascona.

Marianne von Werefkin, The Big Moon, 1923

You can see more of Marianne von Werefkin's works here in my Flickr set.

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