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About the portfolio
Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.
Alexei Jawlensky's portfolio of six lithographs addresses the artist's main subject: the human face. Jawlensky did not consider his images of faces to be portraits; they were, rather, meditations on mystical and spiritual concerns. As he once remarked, "For me the face is not just a face but the whole universe. In the face, the whole universe is revealed."
Jawlensky constructed these heads through an economical process, using only the barest number of black lines and dots—no more than eighteen marks in each composition—that he carefully plotted and painstakingly rendered. He varied the tilt and torsion of the faces from one composition to the other. Privately, he worried that these black-and-white prints lacked meaning, which he usually created through color. He embellished some of the compositions by tracing the black lines with watercolors, as he did in the Museum's five impressions.
Jawlensky rarely made prints (fewer than thirty are known, as opposed to more than 2,000 oil paintings). In the early 1920s, however, the print market offered artists lucrative rewards, and the financially strapped Jawlensky took advantage of the opportunity to make this portfolio for the contemporary art society in Wiesbaden, where he had recently settled.