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Kazimir Malevic (1878 - 1935)



May 6, 2003
New York, NY, US

More About this Item


Oil on canvas

Painted in 1915.

Artist or Maker



Property from the Heirs of Kazimir Malevich
The artist
Thence by descent

Moscow, Art Salon, 16th State Exhibition, Kazimir Malevich, His Way from Impressionism to Suprematism, 1919-20
Berlin, Landesausstellungsgebäude Alt Moabit, Grosse Berliner Kunst ausstellung, Malevich, 1927, no. 38
Hannover, Provinzialmuseum, circa 1930-37
Cambridge, Massachusetts, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University, 1957-2000
Lexington, Massachusetts, Lincoln Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1969-70
Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Le Corbusier Building, Art and Architecture, U.S.S.R., 1917-1932, 1970-71
Ithaca, Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University, Russian Art of the Revolution, 1971
Brooklyn Museum, Kazimir Malevich, 1971, no. 22
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Kazimir Malevich, 1980
New York, Wildenstein Gallery, Kazimir Malevich, 1980
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kazimir Malevich, 1878-1935, 1990-91


Charles Kuhn, German Expressionism and Abstract Art: The Harvard Collections, 1957
Prudential Center News, Boston, August 5, 1968, illustrated
Troels Andersen, Kazimir Malevich: Catalogue Raisonné of the Berlin Exhibition 1927... (exhibition catalogue), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, no. 50, illustrated
Gerd Steinmüller, Die suprematistischen Bilder von Kazimir Malevich 1878-1935, Cologne, 1991, illustrated p. 271
Rainer Crone and David Moos, Kazimir Malevich: The Climax of Disclosure, Chicago, 1991, illustrated in a photograph of the 1919 exhibition on p. 201 and of the 1927 exhibition on p. 204
Sylvia Hochfeld, "The Malevich Legacy," Art News, no. 9, 1993, illustrated p. 70
Carol Vogel, "Heirs to Get Maleviches," The New York Times, December 3, 1999, illustrated
Yves Stavrides, "L'héritage Malevich," L'Express, Paris, March 23, 2000, illustrated p. 117
Andrei Nakov, Kazimir Malewicz, catalogue raisonné, Paris, 2002, no. S-216, illustrated upside down on page 227

Kazimir Malevich's Suprematist paintings are among the most compelling works of 20th century art. Composed of geometric shapes and a limited range of colors, these pictures exalt the beauty of pure form and color. The present picture, which is entitled Suprematist Painting, Rectangle and Circle, and which Malevich completed in 1915 in the midst of writing his ``Suprematist Manifesto,'' is one of his first explorations of this style of painting. It is also one of his most well-known compositions, as it was featured in one of the first important exhibitions of the artist's work at the 16th State Exhibition in Moscow in 1919-20 (see fig. 2) and a retrospective of Malevich's work in Berlin in 1927 (see fig. 3). More recently, this work was entrusted to Harvard University's Busch- Reisinger Museum for over forty years. With its sharply defined blue and black forms set against a field of white, this composition is what Malevich considered to be the pinnacle of artistic expression and ``the creation of intuitive reason.'' As one of Malevich's premiere Suprematist creations, Suprematist Painting, Rectangle and Circle demonstrates the liberation of form and the celebration of the abstract in an extreme manner that was unmatched by avant-garde artists of the day.

The genesis of Suprematist painting was preceded by Malevich's experiences as a member of the fledgling Russian avant-garde. In 1907 he took part in the exhibition by the Association of Moscow Artists with notables such as Vasily Kandinsky and Mikhail Larionov, and was later invited by Larionov to join the newly formed exhibition group, Target, in 1913. Target was influenced by Cubist and Futurist art, and also incorporated Larionov's new, almost non- objective concept called Rayonism (Luchizm) which appealed to Malevich's proto-Suprematist sensibilities. After the demise of Target around 1914, Malevich became a leading member of the Russian Futurist group of artists, writers and poets, and began taking bolder steps with his painting. By the spring and summer of 1915, he finally discarded all reference to figuration in favor of colored plain geometric shapes on a white background and painted strikingly reductive compositions including the present work and Black Square, 1915 (Moscow, Tretyakov Gallery, see fig. 4). The artist wrote a lengthy treatise about these paintings entitled ``From Cubism to Suprematism in Art" to accompany the exhibition The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings: 0.10 in Petrograd. The ``Suprematist Manifesto,'' as this text is commonly known, was later reprinted in Moscow in 1916 and titled ``From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism. The New Realism in Painting.'' In it, Malevich described his vision of art in the age of modernity:

"The artist can be creator only when forms in his picture have nothing in common with nature. For art is the ability to construct, not on the interrelation of form and colour, and not on an aesthetic basis of beauty in composition, but on the basis of weight, speed and the direction of movement. Forms must be given life and the right to individual existence'' (Kazimir Malevich, ``From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism. The New Realism in Painting,'' 1915-16, reprinted in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, eds., Art in Theory, 1900- 1990, 1991, London, p. 175).

"Our world of art has become new, non-objective, pure. Everything has vanished, there remains a mass of material, from which the new forms will be built. In the art of Suprematism form will live, like all living forms of nature. These forms announce that man has gained his equilibrium by arriving from a state of single reasoning at one of double reasoning. Utilitarian reasoning and intuitive reasoning. The new realism in painting is very much realism in painting for it contains no realism of mountains, sky, water... Until now there was realism of objects, but not of painted units of colour which are constructed so that they depend neither on form, nor on colour nor on their position relative to each other. Each form is free and individual. Each form a world'' (ibid., p. 181).

Unlike the Russian artists Soutine and Chagall who left their native country in search of artistic inspiration in France, Malevich remained in Russia during the critical period of transformation and revolution and was a key figure in the revival of Russian art and culture during this period. Born in the Ukraine in 1878, the artist enrolled in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1905 and remained in that city throughout the 1910s. His early paintings from 1910-13 (see fig. 5) were not without reference to the French avant-garde, and incorporated a variation of the Cubist aesthetic made popular by Picasso (see fig. 6) and Braque. But as his painting developed, Malevich began reinterpreting the styles of Cubism, as well as Italian Futurism, and devised an artistic philosophy that was decidedly his own. Suprematism, as his painting was called, revered the beauty of speed that had been championed by Futurism and Cubism's fragmenting of objects. In contrast to these two movements, Suprematism rejected the idea of objective representation and eliminated any references to nature. ``Only with the disappearance of this habit of mind which sees in pictures little corners of nature, Madonnas and shameless Venuses shall we witness a work of pure, living art,'' Malevich wrote in his manifesto. ``I have transformed myself in the zero of form and dragged myself out of the rubbish filled pool of Academic art....'' This was the credo that governed Malevich's compositions of this era, and would later be regarded as one of the most radical pronouncements of early 20th century artistic theory. Malevich's Suprematist paintings, including this one, were catalysts for future movements of Modern art, laying the aesthetic and theoretical foundations for the Minimalist, Conceptualist and Geometric Abstractionist painters in the later half of the century.

Following the exhibition at the Landesausstellungsgebäude Alt Moabit in 1927, Malevich left behind Suprematist Painting, Rectangle and Circle and several other works in Berlin for safe keeping. This picture was later transferred to the Provinzialmuseum (later renamed the Landesmuseum) in Hannover, where it remained at the time of the artist's death in 1935. Around this time, the National Socialists began censoring avant-garde works of art believed to be ``degenerate,'' and the present painting was at risk of seizure by the German government. The museum's director, Alexander Dorner, who was an avid supporter of the Russian avant-garde, brought the picture with him to the United States when he fled Nazi Germany in 1938. At the time of Dorner's death in 1957, this work was left to the Busch- Reisinger Museum at Harvard University, where it was held pending its return to the rightful owners (the Malevich heirs). As stated on the inventory card in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, the painting was ``left in trust by Alexander Dorner until such time as the rightful owner claims the painting and proves his legal right to it.'' In 1999, the painting was returned to the Malevich family in accordance with Dorner's wishes. Out of all the paintings in Malevich's oeuvre, this work is one of only a few that remains in private hands. Exceptional for its rarity and fascinating history, it is truly an icon of 20th century art.

Fig. 1, The artist, circa 1915
Fig. 2, Photograph of the 16th State Exhibition, Kazimir Malevich, His Way from Impressionism to Suprematism, at the Moscow Art Salon in 1919-20, featuring the present work on the right
Fig. 3, Photograph of the Grosse Berliner Kunst ausstellung, Malevich at the Landesausstellungsgebäude Alt Moabit, Berlin, in 1927 featuring the present work
Fig. 4, Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915, Moscow, Tretyakov Gallery
Fig. 5, Kazimir Malevich, Desk and Room, 1913, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum
Fig. 6, Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Liquor Bottle, 1909, New York, The Museum of Modern Art

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