Marianne von Werefkin is a Russian-German-Swiss painter, who started to paint in the Realism style and later developed her style into Expressionism.
Marianne von Werefkin was born on 10 September 1860 in Tula, Russia. She started to paint at the age of fourteen and later became a student of Ilja Rapin, one of the most well known Russian painters. Here she is in old age, pondering imponderables.
Since her early days, Marianne faced many challenges, which contributed to creating her personality. She was seventeen when during cleaning a gun at home she accidentally shot her right hand.
This misfortune had an impact on the rest of her life as a painter because she had to use a special tool helping her to paint. Werefkin also has more issues with health such as neuralgia and hysterical epilepsy.
Marianne von Werefkin was strongly influenced by Russian realism, which reflected in her early works. Because of her talent to create realistic works she even got a nickname – “Russian Rembrandt“.
In 1893 she painted a “Self Portrait in a Sailor‘s Blouse” – a portrait of herself looking into the distance and holding a bunch of paintbrushes in one hand and leaned on her hip with another.
This work was created in her family‘s Blagodat Estate in Lithuania, where she used to come to visit her father and later her brother, who owned the property and where she had her first work studio.
Moving to Munich
In 1896, together with another Russian expressionist Alexej von Jawlensky, whom she met in Russia, she moved to Munich, Germany, where she studied painting.
Munich at that time was a very popular place for artists from Russia and Eastern Europe because of highly-regarded art school founded by Slovenian artist Anton Ažbe.
Unfortunately, instead of creating for herself, she focused on her friend. According to art historians, they were not married, not even a couple, so their relationship could be described only as friends, but at that time, Marianne encouraged Alexej‘s development as an artist and supported him to create. Later he became a father with the other woman whom he married and Marianne never got married or had a child.
Marianne was also known as an active member of a local artists community. She was very social and use to invite various people to her home, her salon, where happened many discussions about art and various ideas. She brought together not only artists but avant-garde writers, dancers even Russian politicians and aristocrats.
She started to paint again after ten years in 1906 when Alexej was not a part of her life anymore and finished her first works in 1907.
Together with another famous Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, she created a Neue Künstvereinigung Munchen – an art group, which was dedicated to the Expressionism ideas.
At that time, her inspiration to create came from French post-impressionists Paul Gauguin and Louis Anquentin, also one of the most known expressionists – a Norwegian Edvard Munch.
When Marianne use to visit her family‘s Estate in Lithuania, she got the inspiration for the country‘s landscape and culture which lead her to create paintings like “The Road”, “The Family”, “City in Lithuania” or “Police Sentinel in Vilnius” (shown below).
Werefkin developed her painting style, which mainly consisted of vivid and dark colors. In 1910, she created a new self-portrait, which was different from painting in her early days as an artist.
This one didn‘t reflect Russian realism anymore, Marianne created her painting style influenced at that time prevailing Expressionism.
The portrait is mesmerizing because of the strict look of her vivid red eyes, also red color dress and hat, yellow skin and vivid blue background and has a strong emotion, which is very specific for expressionists.
Next and Last Stop – Switzerland
Because of the First World War, Marianne von Werefkin with her friend Jawlensky moved to the neutral country Switzerland.
At first, they lived in Geneva, later in Zurich, but when Jawlensky decided to marry the mother of his child, Marianne moved to Ascona, where she lived till her death in 1938.
Her life back then was difficult because of her living conditions – she didn‘t get enough money, so she couldn‘t paint and create as much as she wanted.
Despite her financial condition, she kept active in social life and in 1924 created an artist group “Großer Bär” which focused on discussions about art.
Marianne von Werefkin‘s works as an important sign of expressionism were exhibited several times in different locations in Europe.
She together with Alexej von Jawlensky was remembered again in 2019, when the art gallery “Lenbachhaus” in Munich, Germany, where the artist spent one part of her life, created an exhibition called “Lebensmenschen”.
This exhibition started on 22nd October and will last until the 16th of February 2020.
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