MARIANNE VON WEREFKIN 1860 - 1938
Marianne von Werefkin was known as the Russian Rembrandt in her youth, Else Lasker-Schüler called her the Blaue Reiter equestrienne, "Marianne von Werefkin – I named her the noble guttersnipe," as a line in a poem about her reads.
Werefkin was born in 1860 in Tula, Russia, and grew up in an aristocratic family. Her father was a general, her mother an icon painter.
At 28, Werefkin shot herself in the hand in a hunting accident. Her hand remained crippled, but after an forced break she succeeded in continuing to paint, thanks to much discipline and practise as well as self-constructed painting aids.
In St. Petersburg in 1891, Ilia Repin introduced her to the penniless, younger officer and painter Alexej von Jawlensky. Werefkin started a relationship with him. Later she was disappointed to realize that his interest lay more in her financial support and her housekeeper. She decided that she did not want to be a victim of this circumstance, and came up with a plan to turn him into an outstanding artist, so that he would be worthy of her. Werefkin interrupted her work as a painter for ten years to be Jawlensky's mentor, to teach and champion him.
It was during this period that she wrote Lettres à un Inconnu (letters to an unknown person). She also made a breakthrough in terms of her own insight. She wrote in her notes: "The art of the future is emotion." This had a great influence on her colleague and friend, Wassily Kandinsky, who later would develop his book Concerning The Spiritual in Art based on it.
After the Russian revolution and the outbreak of WWI, Marianne von Werefkin lost her tsarist pension and emigrated to Switzerland. From 1918 on, she lived in Ascona, in Italian-speaking Switzerland.
One day the department store magnate Max Emden sent a servant to Werefkin to aid her in her destitute situation, by buying some of her paintings, but she rebuked him. Her pictures could only be bought with love and respect. Money cannot buy everything.
Translated by Zoë Claire Miller
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Bernd Fäthke: Marianne Werefkin, Leben und Werk 1860–1938. Prestel, München 1988
Brigitte Rossbeck: Marianne von Werefkin. Die Russin aus dem Kreis des Blauen Reiters. Siedler, München 2010
Clemens Weiler (Hrsg.): Marianne Werefkin, Briefe an einen Unbekannten 1901–1905.
Else Lasker-Schüler: Marianne von Werefkin, Sämtliche Gedichte. München 1966, S. 223 f.