["Memories of my sick hands": life and medical history of the painter Alexej von Jawlensky]

Z Rheumatol. 2011 Jun;70(4):336-57. doi: 10.1007/s00393-010-0658-5.
[Article in German]


Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941), one of the most important expressionist painters and a member the artist group "The Blue Four", suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis. He was the first painter in the twentieth century to create extensive series of paintings especially of human faces. The medical history of Jawlensky as documented in his letters, is a harrowing document of a great artist who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis at a time when medical treatment was limited to physical therapy, pain medication and other relatively ineffective modalities, including the unnecessary extraction of teeth. Jawlensky's disease was characterized by a rapidly progressive course with severe pain, rapid onset of disability and ending up with complete immobilization and paralysis for several years until his death.The artistic processing and sublimation of his illness and suffering resulting in a series of over 1,000 small format meditations are the impressive and touching example of creative coping with rheumatoid arthritis. The meditations are unique in the history of art and often compared with icons. However, knowing the medical condition of Jawlensky these paintings can also be seen as metaphors of suffering and in each image the great physical and mental effort is reflected in the artistic details. Therefore, his art agent Galka E. Scheyer formulated in a letter to him: "You are the painter of the human soul. I know of no other modern painter of the human soul."

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / history*
  • Famous Persons*
  • Hand Deformities, Acquired / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine in the Arts*
  • Paintings / history*
  • Russia

Personal name as subject

  • Alexej von Jawlensky