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Artists Marianne von Werefkin
Marianne von Werefkin Photo

Marianne von Werefkin

Russian-German-Swiss Expressionist Painter

Movements and Styles: Expressionism, Der Blaue Reiter

Born: September 10, 1860 - Tula, Russia

Died: February 6, 1938, - Ascona, Switzerland

Marianne von Werefkin Timeline

Quotes

"Any art is a concentrated feeling of love elevated to a world view and translated into an artistic language of symbols".
Marianne von Werefkin
"Art is not hysteria. Art is as natural to man as is thought, it is a normal function of his brain. Art is observation and consciousness. It is not an instinct, vague, indecisive, sickly. Art is an eternal source - life, and an unlimited expression, the individual. These two elements, well-adapted, make masterpieces."
Marianne von Werefkin
"My eyes are magical glass [when looking at] the outside world, and it can transform a lot into bewitching beauty."
Marianne von Werefkin
"Color bites at my heart."
Marianne von Werefkin
"I want to work. It is an obsession. I am gnawed at the heart by an excruciating desire to manipulate color...I see figures, with an incredible intensity, pass before my eyes."
Marianne von Werefkin
"Am I a true artist? Yes, yes, yes. Am I a woman? Alas. Yes, yes, yes."
Marianne von Werefkin
"I am a woman, I lack every [ability for] creation. I can understand everything and cannot create.. .I don't have the words to express my ideal".
Marianne von Werefkin
"I adore my life: it is filled with so much true poetry, fine feelings, things many have no idea about. I despise my life, which, being rich, allowed itself to be crammed into the confines of conventions. Between these two opinions pulsates my soul always longing for beauty and good".
Marianne von Werefkin
"Our passion must be like our love - illusory and artistic, having no other end than the desire to be beautiful".
Marianne von Werefkin
"All bores me in the world of facts, I see an end, a limit to all things and my heart thirsts for the infinite and for eternity. How to speak of the feeling, so serious, that has seized me?"
Marianne von Werefkin
"I want a lovely life; in order for it to be, harmony and style are necessary. I avow mine to the key of aesthetic sentiment - the constant permanent creation everywhere and in every one."
Marianne von Werefkin
"I love art with a passion so selfless that when I believed that I saw that I would be able to serve it better by abstaining myself, so that another [Jawlensky] could succeed - I did it."
Marianne von Werefkin
"I have hell in my soul. I did not trust myself and that is why my life went to the devil. I have a creative soul and was a slave to idleness."
Marianne von Werefkin

"The artist is the only one who detaches himself from life, opposes his personality against it, he is the only one who orders things as he wishes them to be in place of things as they are. Thus for him life is not a fait accompli, it is something to remake, to do again."

Synopsis

Writing about the diaries which Marianne von Werefkin composed during the 1900s, the writer Natalya Tolstaya noted that they reveal "a soul molded by much suffering and many a loss, the soul of a woman and an artist". This statement might be taken to apply to Werefkin's entire body of work, which was shaped not only by a century's worth of Russian and European artistic tradition, but also by an intense social and spiritual consciousness, and by the peculiar pressures brought to bear on her as a woman in a creative world dominated by men. Her work, still undervalued in relation to that of her peers, including Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, can now be recognized as an important contribution to European Expressionism, her career as breaking down various barriers to women's acceptance as modern artists.

Key Ideas

Various members of the Expressionist movement, including Wassily Kandinksy and Marc Chagall, were of Russian heritage. But Marianne von Werefkin's work provides us with the most striking evidence of the thread that runs through modern painting from late-19th-century Russian Realism to the emotive abstraction of early-twentieth-century Northern-European art. Tutored by the great Realist painter Ilya Repin, Werefkin applied the principles of social and religious awareness she had learned in her youth to the Expressionist idiom of her maturity, finding in the principle of abstraction a new way of expressing the human spirit.
As one of the only women artists attached to the Expressionist movement, Werefkin staked out new ground for female painters. Abandoning her practice for a decade in the 1900s to support the career of her companion artist Alexej von Jawlensky, Werefkin's recognition was set back further when Wassily Kandinsky's influential book Concerning the Spiritual on Art (1911-12) appeared, making - so Werefkin claimed - uncredited use of her ideas. However, from the time of her Self-Portrait in a Sailor's Blouse (1893) onwards, the force of Werefkin's character had been clear, and by the time of her death she had found her own place and status in artistic culture.
Werefkin's works are often populated by cramped, hunched figures in black, generally women, generally implied to be impoverished city-dwellers or laborers. While the Expressionist movement had always been defined by a form of social awareness, Werefkin's work expresses the human concerns underlying the movement more clearly than most. She never followed Kandinksy down the path of pure, lyrical abstraction, always keeping her compositions tethered around recognizable human subjects placed in the rural or urban landscape.

Biography

Marianne von Werefkin Photo

Childhood

Marianna Wladimirowna Werewkina was born in Tula, a small city 120 miles south of Moscow, into a wealthy family of the Russian nobility. Her father, Vladimir Nikolaevich Verevkin, was commander of the Ekaterinburg Regiment of the Russian Army, while her mother, Elizabeth Daraga, was a baroness and painter. Werefkin's childhood was spent travelling across Russia as her father was assigned to different locations, though family summers were always spent at the Blagodat Estate in modern-day Lithuania, assigned to her father for his services during the Crimean War by Alexander II. It was there, in her own private studio, that Marianna began to paint.

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Marianne von Werefkin Biography Continues

Important Art by Marianne von Werefkin

The below artworks are the most important by Marianne von Werefkin - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Self-Portrait in a Sailor's Blouse (1893)

Self-Portrait in a Sailor's Blouse (1893)

Artwork description & Analysis: This self-portrait, painted at the age of 33, is an example of Werefkin's early, Russian Realist-influenced work. She portrays herself in a sailor's blouse, holding her long brushes and engaging the viewer with easy assurance. Werefkin is probably at her family's Blagodat Estate, in modern-day Lithuania, where her studio was located until her emigration to Germany with Alexej von Jawlensky in 1896.

After a series of successful exhibitions, in 1893 Werefkin seemed to be at the start of a prestigious artistic career in her native Russia. Her body of work from this time mainly consists of portraiture, influenced by her tutor Ilya Repin's work in this genre, and by the emphasis which Repin and other Realist painters placed on depicting contemporary Russian life. But whereas Werefkin's earliest paintings, such as Portrait of A Girl in Russian Costume (1883-88) and Portrait of Vera Repin (1881), match the photographic precision of her teacher's work - see Repin's famous Barge Haulers on The Volga (1870-73), for example - this slightly later piece uses a more painterly, expressive style, perhaps reflecting Repin's engagement with French Impressionism during the 1870s. Werefkin was dubbed the 'Russian Rembrandt' for her mastery of oil, and for her capacity to capture both the outer appearance and inner essence of her subject.

Early works such as Self-Portrait in a Sailor's Blouse show the depth of the artistic heritage from which Werefkin's mature, Expressionist persona emerged. Like the great Russian Realist novelists of the nineteenth century - Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky - Ilya Repin and his Realist comrades saw their work as serving not only a sociological function but also a deep spiritual purpose, a sense of purpose which Werefkin seems to have imbibed, and which emerges again in her statements on the spiritual value of abstract and Expressionist aesthetics.

Oil on canvas painting - Museum of Modern Art, Ascona, Switzerland

Portrait of Helene (c. 1909)

Portrait of Helene (c. 1909)

Artwork description & Analysis: This small painting, showing a half-naked woman in high heels, knee-length stockings and hat, is one of the earliest works created by Werefkin after her return to painting in 1906. Depicting an unknown sitter, the impressionistic quality of the piece reflects Werefkin 's search for a new expressive vocabulary, after the abandonment of her early, Realist style, and following her extensive interactions with painters on the Munich art scene, such as Wassily Kandinsky, Gabrielle Münter, and Franz Marc.

During her hiatus from painting, Werefkin had immersed herself in art history, and had filled countless notebooks with writings and drawings, creating over 400 sketches in a fluid, expressive style. When she began painting again she adapted this style to the canvas, becoming increasingly concerned with capturing the inner life of her subjects in a way that might rupture, or exaggerate, aspects of their outer appearance, combining the visible and invisible qualities of her sitters. At the same time, the sexual frisson of the subject-matter seems to owe something to the depiction of seamy Parisian night-life by Post-Impressionist painters such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. A few years before creating the piece, during 1903-05, Werefkin had travelled to France with Jawlensky, taking in the stylistic advances of artists attached to the Nabi, synthetist and cloisonnist movements, who were attempting to use color and form to convey the emotional and spiritual content of their subjects.

Portrait of Helene can be seen as an important transitional work. It indicates Werefkin's departure from the Realist and Post-Impressionist styles of her early work, while not yet conveying the full scope of her Expressionist idiom.

Gouache, pen and Indian ink on wove paper - Private collection

Return Home (c. 1909)

Return Home (c. 1909)

Artwork description & Analysis: This painting shows a group of women walking down a street at night in an urban setting, carrying parcels and babies, in a slow-paced, heavily-loaded procession. Buildings line the road, while the dull glow of the lamplight creates a melancholy mood. The work depicts the city of Kovno in Russia - modern-day Lithuania - where Werefkin was staying with her brother in 1909 while recovering from a leg injury.

Werefkin found the city of Kovno visually captivating, writing in her journal of the gloomy violets and dimness of the light, calling it "a treasure-trove for artists". But it was also the suffering of the city's inhabitants that preoccupied her, as she emphasized in her diary: "All that is here is suffering and this horror of beauty and this horrible life". To better express the inner life of her subjects, she turned to techniques reminiscent of French Cloissonism or Synthetism, the use of heavily outlined, flat blocks of color, from which light seems to emanate as through panels of stained glass. The somber mood of the piece is typical of much European art at this time, owing much to the Post-Impressionist style of Vincent van Gogh, who had depicted peasant women at work - in the fields, by the hearth - in similarly melancholic fashion.

The marriage of a Post-Impressionist, expressive use of color with a somber, anxious mood is in a sense the basis of Expressionism, which was emerging simultaneously across various Northern-European cities around this time. This is also one of the first pieces in which we find the figure of the stooped or hunched woman in black, a recurring motif in Werefkin's work. In various respects, then, Return Home can be considered an important early painting of her mature period.

Tempera on paper - Museum of Modern Art, Ascona, Switzerland

More Marianne von Werefkin Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Marianne von Werefkin
Interactive chart with Marianne von Werefkin's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Eugène DelacroixEugène Delacroix
Ilya RepinIlya Repin
Paul GauguinPaul Gauguin
Vincent van GoghVincent van Gogh
Edvard MunchEdvard Munch

Personal Contacts

Alexej von JawlenskyAlexej von Jawlensky
Wassily KandinskyWassily Kandinsky
Gabriele Münter
Franz MarcFranz Marc
Else Lasker-Schüler

Movements

RomanticismRomanticism
RealismRealism
SymbolismSymbolism
SynthetismSynthetism
CloisonnismCloisonnism

Influences on Artist
Marianne von Werefkin
Marianne von Werefkin
Years Worked: 1874 - 1938
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Franz MarcFranz Marc
August MackeAugust Macke
Albert BlochAlbert Bloch
Lyonel FeiningerLyonel Feininger

Personal Contacts

Alexej von JawlenskyAlexej von Jawlensky
Gabriele Münter
Wassily KandinskyWassily Kandinsky

Movements

ExpressionismExpressionism
Der Blaue ReiterDer Blaue Reiter
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Tachisme
Neo-ExpressionismNeo-Expressionism

Useful Resources on Marianne von Werefkin

Books

Websites

Articles

Videos

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Marianne von Werefkin Recomended resource

By Bernd Fäthke

Expressionism: A Revolution in German Art Recomended resource

By Dietmar Elger

Marianne von Werefkin Recomended resource

By Brigitte Robbeck

Ambiguity of Home: Identity and Reminiscence in Marianne Werefkin's Return Home c. 1909 Recomended resource

By Adrianne Kochman
Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide

Between Life Crisis and World War Recomended resource

By Ekkehard Tanner
Schirn
February 1, 2016

M.K. Ciurlionis and Marianne Von Werefkin: Their Paths and Watersheds Recomended resource

By Laima Lauchaite
Institute of Culture, Philosophy and Art, Vilnius

Marianne Werefkin: The Woman and the Artist

By Natalya Tolstaya
Tretyakov Gallery Magazine

Art Exhibition on Marianne von Werefkin Recomended resource

Artrust SA Vernissage
October 2016

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Sarah Frances Dias

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Greg Thomas

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Sarah Frances Dias
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Greg Thomas
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