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Gallery Text

The Russian painter Jawlensky was a key figure among the expressionist artists in Munich who formed the Blaue Reiter group in 1911. Seeking to infuse their art with spiritual feeling in a materialistic age, the expressionists employed vibrant, non-naturalistic colors, which they applied to the canvas in thick, expressive brushstrokes. Head of a Woman (BR51.267) exemplifies Jawlensky’s work from this period while reflecting his increasing preoccupation with the subject of the human face, in which he believed “the whole universe is revealed.” Painted more than a decade later, Composition No. 1, Sunrise (BR65.37) is part of his series Abstract Heads, in which the face is greatly simplified, becoming a kind of geometric template. Although the colors are still brilliant, the paint is now thinly and precisely applied. Often compared to Russian religious icons, these heads are no longer portraits but meditations on spiritual concerns, emotions, natural elements, and times of day.

Like other paintings in this gallery, these works were recently reframed to reflect the artist’s historical choices. The black period frame is similar to those favored by Jawlensky, while the other is an exact replica of a “Vinecky frame,” named after the sculptor Josef Vinecky, who designed them with the painter. While many expressionist artists chose simple frame profiles, either painted black or sometimes with a gold-bronze finish, Jawlensky’s selection of a more ornamental molding is a surprising choice given the simplicity of his abstracted composition.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Alexei von Jawlensky, Russian (Torzhok, Russia 1864 - 1941 Wiesbaden, Germany)
Head of a Woman
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Frauenportrait
Work Type
c. 1911
Persistent Link
Level 1, Room 1500, Modern and Contemporary Art, Art in Germany Between the Wars
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on cardboard
43.1 x 32.3 cm (16 15/16 x 12 11/16 in.)
framed: 54 x 43.4 x 2 cm (21 1/4 x 17 1/16 x 13/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: in oil at l.l.: A.j.
Frau Hanna Becker vom Rath, Frankfurt, sold?; to Charles L. Kuhn, 1951, gift; to Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1951.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Anonymous Gift
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
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There is a painting of seated woman on the verso of "Head of a Woman." According to the catalogue raisonne, this overpainted image on the verso dates to c. 1908-09.
Publication History

Charles Werner Haxthausen, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University, Abbeville Press (New York, NY, 1980), p. 38, repr.

Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), no. 370, p. 310, repr.

Maria Jawlensky and Lucia Pieroni-Jawlensky, Alexej von Jawlensky : catalogue raisonné of the oil paintings, vol. 1, Sotheby's Publications (London, 1991-1998), cat. no. 402

Peter Nisbet and Joseph Koerner, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, ed. Peter Nisbet, Harvard University Art Museums and Scala Publishers Ltd. (Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2007), p. 164

Exhibition History

Artists of the Blaue Reiter: Exhibition of Painting and Graphic Works, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 01/21/1955 - 02/24/1955

Works from the 20th Century Collection of the Busch-Reisinger, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 06/15/1980 - 09/01/1980; Wildenstein Gallery, New York, New York, 09/23/1980 - 10/24/1980

20th-Century Works on Paper from the Permanent Collection, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 09/07/1981 - 11/11/1981

19th- and 20th-Century Works on Paper from the Permanent Collection, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 02/08/1982

Deutsche Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts aus dem Busch-Reisinger Museum, Stadtische Galerie im Stadelschen Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, 10/23/1982 - 01/16/1983; Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin 30, 02/10/1983 - 04/17/1983; Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, 05/08/1983 - 06/26/1983

German Painting 1760-1960: A New Installation, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 12/20/1983 - 02/19/1984

32Q: 1500 Art in Germany Between the Wars (Expressionism-Interwar), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at