Marianne von Werefkin

Kenny Ackerman

Marianne von Werefkin was a Russian-German-Swiss Expressionist painter best known for her boldly colored landscapes and village scenes. Born in 1860 into the Russian nobility, von Werefkin received a well-rounded education. Her artistic abilities were recognized and encouraged from childhood, and she began receiving private drawing lessons at the age of 14. In 1886, upon her family’s move to St. Petersburg, von Werefkin began studying with artist Ilya Repin, one of the most renowned of the Russian realist painters. Her facility for realist painting earned her the nickname “Russian Rembrandt.”

In 1891, von Werefkin met fellow Russian painter Alexej von Jawlensky, with whom she developed a close relationship. She accompanied him to Munich in 1896, where she put aside her own work for almost a decade. While in Munich, she hosted a Salon which became a center for the local intelligentsia, and founded the artist society Lukasbruderschaft, of which Wassily Kandinsky became a member. Von Werefkin traveled extensively in France and turned to painting again in 1906. She created her first Expressionist paintings the following year; these early Expressionist works incorporated the influence of Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch.

In 1908, von Werefkin and Jawlensky began working alongside Kandinsky and painter Gabriele Münter in the picturesque town of Murnau, Germany, where they frequently painted landscapes together en plein air. In 1909, they formed a new artist group, the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Association of Munich Artists, or NKVM). Kandinsky, Münter, Jawlensky, and von Werefkin, along with other German artists, soon founded the more famous Blaue Reiter group upon finding the NKVM too artistically restrictive. Von Werefkin and Jawlensky moved to Switzerland upon the outbreak of World War I. The two separated in 1918, and von Werefkin moved to the lakeside resort town of Ascona, where she painted numerous colorful Expressionist landscapes. Her sweeping mountain vistas and village streetscapes, characterized by bold palettes and strong black outlines remain her most coveted works today. In 1924, von Werefkin founded the artist group Großer Bär (Big Bear). She died in Ascona in 1938.