Kazimir Malevich, Head of a Peasant. Image courtesy of Sotheby's

6 Malevich paintings that are not the Black Square

A retrospective dedicated to Kazimir Malevich comes to London in July. But how many of his paintings – other than his famous Black Square – can you name?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 6:30pm
Alexandra Guzeva

The early life of Kazimir Malevich, born in 1879 in Kiev, was far removed from the world of art. His father wanted Kazimir to follow in his steps and go into the sugar beet processing business. His mother, however, had some artistic leanings, writing poetry and loving embroidery, and was later one of the few people who supported Malevich's aspirations to become a painter.

As a child, Malevich saw a painting of a girl peeling potatoes and was struck by how accurately the peelings were depicted. It was that unbelievable realism that set in motion the artistic journey of one of the most abstract artists of the 20th century, to be celebrated this summer in a retrospective at Tate Modern, London. While Malevich is most often associated with the suprematist masterpiece known as the Black Square, his extensive body of work throughout the years reveals a versatile and eclectic artist.  

 

1. Spring. Garden in blossom (1904) 

 

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This is one of Malevich's early works. At the time, his paintings were full of the impressionist spirit. That was a phase that almost all avant garde artists went through. A private teacher who gave Malevich drawing lessons was a big fan of Paul Cezanne.

2. Self-portrait (1910) 

 

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From pure impressionism, Malevich moved into avant garde art, taking part in the exhibitions of various artistic groups, including the Knave of Diamonds. He slowly turned to cubism and an alogical style of painting (Alogism), with his works gradually becoming more geometric and primitive.

 

3. Peasant Women in a Church (1912) 

 

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This is a painting from the so-called "first peasant cycle". The main subjects approached are peasants, portrayed in fields, churches and close-ups. At this stage Malevich’s figures appear to be growing in mass, becoming more voluminous and static.

 

 

4. Sketch for a costume, Enemy (1913)

 

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Malevich worked closely with other Russian avant garde artists and was very friendly with musician and artist Mikhail Matushin and poet Aleksey Kruchenykh. Together, they came up with the idea for a futuristic opera, titled Victory over the Sun, which was supposed to be fully based on artistic Alogism. Malevich designed costumes for it.

 

5. Suprematist Painting (with Black Trapezium and Red Square) (1915) 

 

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This picture was created the same year as the famous Black Square and belongs to the suprematist school, of which Malevich is the worldly renowned founding father and main ideologist. In the Manifesto of Suprematism, Malevich declared its main artistic principles: rejection of academism and triumph of revolution in ideas and methods. "We hereby declare <ourselves> free creators, as opposed to the free artists of the academic craft," he wrote.

 

6. Woman with rake (1930-32) 

 

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In his second peasant cycle Malevich moved even further into the realms of primitivism, even though he preferred referring to the style as "neoimpressionism". Closer to the end of his life, he turned back to realist painting. Hard to believe, but the creator of the Black Square ended his career switching to painting simple, ordinary and quite concrete landscapes.

 

 

Malevich runs at Tate Modern from 17 July 2014