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Jawlensky, Young Girl in a Flowered Hat

Alexej von Jawlensky, Young Girl in a Flowered Hat, 1910, oil on cardboard (Albertina, Vienna). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(lighthearted music) Male Voiceover: We're in the Albertina in Vienna, and we're looking at Alexej von Jawlensky's brilliant paiting, the Young Woman in a Flowered Hat. Female Voiceover: When you said brilliant, I think you meant that it was both brilliant in terms of its drawing and its conception, but also in terms of its color. Male Voiceover: I don't think I can imagine a more radically painted or colored image. Female Voiceover: That orange is absolutely florescent. Male Voiceover: This is expressionism at its most extreme. Here's an artist who was a Russian. He studied, actually, with Ilya Repin, one of the leading Russian artists of the turn of century, and then gives up that high pitch naturalism for a kind of expressiveness that comes out of Matisse's fauvism, as related to the work of Kandinsky, who was a close friend for many years. We have this just the height of radicality in painting. Female Voiceover: Certainly emerging from the art of Gauguin, also in VanGogh. Jawlensky was in the middle of that whole current at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Male Voiceover: That issue is especially important for Russian artists like this, because as Gauguin was looking back to a more rural life and a kind of more direct and sort of pure life; for instance, in Brittany and in the South Seas, most famously, the Russians were often looking back to their folk art; they were looking back to Russian icons, they were looking back to the simple printed billboards that were being produced at that time. They were looking for a kind of veracity, a kind of directness, a kind of truth in paitning. Female Voiceover: There is a sense of primitivism here, although the figure has a sense of sophistication about her, an urban sophistication with that fabulous flower hat, and the lovely fan that she holds very modestly toward her face; but, there is something primitivistic in the dark outlines, the abstraction, the sense of geometry. Male Voiceover: I think you've gotten directly to the heart of the painting, for me at least, which is this serious conflict between the subject matter, which is modest and almost quiet. You have this woman who's not looking at us directly. There's an emphasis on her eyelashes. There's all of the accouterments of high fashion with the fan, with the hat, but then painted in the most violent, most aggressive manner one can imagine. There's this expression of 20th century modernism at its extreme. Female Voiceover: Mm hmm (affirmtative), and for me, it almost flips back and forth. Sometimes when I look at this, I see her, and I see those beautiful long eyelashes and the delicacy of her face and the smallness of her red lips, and then other times I look at it and I almost flip a switch and I see harsh black outlines, and the gestures that the artist made to create these forms. There's something very raw about that. Male Voiceover: It's raw, it's strident, and it's just fabulous to look at. Female Voiceover: But, it's also really pleasurable. The colors, although they're bright, they're harmonious. They hold together. Male Voiceover: But they're absolutely violent in relationship to the colors that we would expect. For instance, the woman has a green face, and green-yellow face. Female Voiceover: But it works. Sometimes you hardly even notice. You have to sort of remind yourself her face is green, because in a way, it feels natural. Male Voiceover: There is something that is beautifully artificial in that way. It's as if this like it is not the warm light of the sun, but this is the electric light of the modern era. This is not painting on canvas, this is not even on paper. This is actually on cardboard, and the artists allow that rich brown color of the cardboard to come through in between the areas that has been painted. It reminds me, actually, of some of the work that was done by Toulouse-Lautrec at the end of the 19th century, where you had somebody who was interested in the artificiality of light in cafes, on the stage, and there is something about that here. Female Voiceover: [Daga] did that, too, with ballerinas and the light on the stage. Male Voiceover: That's right, so there is this notion of the artificiality of color, of light, of form, or representation itself as very much a part of this early 20th century moment, this expressionism, this deeply emotional expressive moment. (lighthearted music)