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Marianne von Werefkin

Russian-German-Swiss Expressionist Painter

Marianne von Werefkin Photo
Movements and Styles: Expressionism, Der Blaue Reiter

Born: September 10, 1860 - Tula, Russia

Died: February 6, 1938 - Ascona, Switzerland

"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."

Summary of Marianne von Werefkin

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.
Marianne von Werefkin Photo

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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