Saturday, December 6, 2014

Marianne von Werefkin

Fantastic Landscape
size unknown
oil on board
Private collection

“One life is far too little for all the things I feel within myself, and I invent other lives within and outside myself for them. A whirling crowd of invented beings surrounds me and prevents me from seeing reality. Color bites at my heart.” (Marianne von Werefkin)

Marianne von Werefkin (1860-1938), a native of Russia born in the town of Tula, played an important role in Expressionism. She was known as “Russian Rembrandt” in her home country.

As a member of ancient Russian nobility, she grew up in a cultivated and wealthy aristocratic family; her mother was a painter, her father a general -  for his meritorious service during the Crimean War, Czar Alexander II granted him the estate Blagodat in Lithuania, the family’s beloved summer retreat. There she had her own studio house. At an early age, she attracted a great deal of attention with her portraits, painted in an intensely atmospheric Naturalist style. After her parents had discovered their daughter’s extraordinary talent, the most distinguished realist painter of Russia, Ilya Repin, became her private teacher. In 1888 she had a hunting accident and shot herself in the right hand, losing the middle finger of her painting hand. However, she practised persistently to keep her from pursuing her goals, and she finally managed to use drawing and painting instruments with her right hand again.

In 1896, after the death of her father, she moved with her entourage to Schwabing in Munich, where she hosted a famous salon. She was the primary theorist and stimulator of new ideas. The village of Murnau in the Bavarian Alps became the birthplace of abstract painting in the summer of 1908, when the artist couple Gabriele Munter and Wassily Kandinsky joined Werefkin to live, paint, and debate there together. Kandinsky, with his essay “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”, has usually been considered the leading thinker of the group. But it has since been shown by Werefkin’s biographer Fathke that he took many of his ideas from Werefkin, without, however, mentioning their source.

With the outbreak of the first World War she moved to neutral Switzerland. She lost her Czarist pension through the Russian revolution. Completely impoverished, but creatively unbroken, and supported by good friends and admirers of her work, she spent the last quarter of her long life in Ascona. She donated many of her paintings to the city, which today possesses the largest collection of Werefkin’s works.