Faces such as those of a favorite elderly uncle with twinkly eyes and crinkly grin, and the friend with kind eyes and calm countenance who is a steadying influence during the occasional existential crisis, are all imprinted on the mind's eye. Expressionist painter Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941), born near Torzhok, Russia, was driven to reveal the essential character behind faces such as these using high-voltage, arresting color.
As a child, Jawlensky was likely immersed in the traditions and imagery of religious icons and described a “miraculous Madonna icon” seen in his childhood: “This icon had three precious coats, one of gold, one of coral and one with pearls and diamonds.” (Schampers K. Alexej von Jawlensky. Museum Boymans-van Beuningen Rotterdam; 1994:274.) Jawlensky identified with the mystical aspects of such phenomena, and his sense of the spiritual would have a lifelong effect on his work.