Kazimir Severinovich Malevich

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Kasimir Malevich

The Russian painter Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935) founded suprematism and is credited with having painted the first geometric, totally nonrepresentational picture.

The son of a foreman in a sugar factory, Kasimir Malevich was born on Feb. 11, 1878, in Kiev. He received only a rudimentary formal education, but through his own energies he was well read. Even so, his writings reveal his lack of schooling. They are often disorganized and their ideas are crudely expressed, especially when they are compared with the essays of Wassily Kandinsky, whose concepts parallel Malevich's.

In 1895 Malevich became a student at the Kiev School of Art. He settled in Moscow in 1904, and 5 years later he had his first one-man show. He had been painting in the impressionist style, but his work by 1909 suggests a strong dependence on contemporary French art for direction, notably that of the post-impressionists, the Fauves, and the Nabis, whose paintings he had seen in the remarkable collections of Ivan Morosov and Sergei Shchukin (Stchoukine). Malevich became acquainted with Michael Larionov and Nathalie Gontcharova in Moscow and assumed an active role in the exhibitions of the Jack of Diamonds group.

By 1911 Malevich was working in a cubist manner that was closer to Fernand Léger in style than to Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. An example of Malevich's cubist period is Morning in the Country after the Rain (1911). In it he abstracted a landscape in which cylindrical figures of peasants are featured prominently. He had dealt with similar themes the year before, but more graphically. By 1913 he had so transformed his material that recognizable imagery had disappeared, though inferences of light, bulk, and atmosphere had not. Later that year he carried abstraction to its ultimate limit: he painted a black rectangle on a white ground. This, the first suprematist work, according to the artist, expressed "the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art."

Thereafter Malevich confined himself to arrangements of geometric shapes with the goal of suggesting such sensations to the beholder as flight, wireless telegraphy, and magnetic attraction. In 1918 he painted a series of white-on-white suprematist compositions. The following year he had a retrospective exhibition in Moscow and also took over the directorship of the School of Art in Vitebsk, which he renamed the College of New Art. He spent more and more time teaching and writing. In 1922 he moved to Leningrad, where he was provided with a studio and living quarters in the newly reorganized Museum of Artistic Culture.

In the 1920s Malevich made several sculptures which look like models of modern buildings. These he called "arkhitectonics." In the early 1920s the Soviet government began to assume a negative attitude toward abstract art, since it was ineffectual as a tool for propaganda, and started to support "socialist realism." Despite this, Malevich was permitted to go to Germany in 1927 to exhibit his work and to lecture at the Bauhaus. One of his books, The Nonobjective World (written in 1915), was published in German by the Bauhaus that year.

In 1929 Malevich had a retrospective exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. During the last years of his life he painted fewer pictures, and those he did were portraits, mostly of his family and friends. He died of cancer in Leningrad and was buried in a coffin that he himself had decorated with suprematist motifs.

Further Reading

Malevich's writings, expertly translated, were collected in a two-volume work, Essays on Art, edited by Troels Anderson (trans., 2 vols., 1968). Camilla Gray, The Great Experiment: Russian Art, 1863-1922 (1962), traces the development of Malevich's art and contains handsome plates of his work, several in color.

Additional Sources

Hilton, Alison, Kazimir Malevich, New York, N.Y.: Rizzoli, 1992.

Malevich, Kazimir Severinovich, Malevich: artist and philosopher, New York: H.N. Abrams, 1990. □

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(18781935), founder of the Suprematist school of abstract painting.

Kazimir Severinovich Malevich was initially a follower of Impressionism. He was influenced by Pablo Picasso and Cubism and became a member of the Jack of Diamonds group, whose members were the leading exponents of avant-garde art in preWorld War I Russia. According to the Suprematists, each economic mode of production generated not only a ruling class but also an official artistic style supported by that dominant social class. Deviations from that official style were the products of subordinate classes. All art, prior to the rule of the proletariat, therefore, manifested the ideology of some class. But the revolution would bring about the destruction not merely of the bourgeoisie, but of all classes as such. Consequently, the art of the proletarian revolution must be the expression of not merely another style but of absolute, eternal, "supreme" values.

Constructivism was brought into Soviet avantguard architecture primarily by Vladimir Tatlin and Malevich. Malevich's "Arkhitektonica," Tatlin's Monument to the Third International (the "Tatlin Tower"), and El Lissitsky's "Prouns" shaped in large measure the conceptualizations of the modernist architects as they sought a means to combine painting, sculpture, and architecture. Tatlin's stress on utilitarianism was challenged by Malevich's Suprematism, which decried the emphasis of technology in art and argued that artists must search for "supreme" artistic values that would transform the ideology of the people. Malevich thus contrasted the work of engineers, whose creations exhibited simple transitory values, with aesthetic creativity, which he proclaimed produced supreme values. Malevich warned: "If socialism relies on the infallibility of science and technology, a great disappointment is in store for it because it is not granted to scientists to foresee the 'course of events' and to create enduring values" (Malevich, p. 36). His "White on White" carried Suprematist theories to their logical conclusion. With the turn against modern art under Josef Stalin, Malevich lost influence and died in poverty and oblivion.

See also: architecture; constructivism; futurism.


Malevich, Kazimir. (1959) The Non-Objective World, tr. Howard Dearstyne. Chicago: P. Theobald.

Milner, John. (1996). Kazimir Malevich and the Art of Geometry. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Hugh D. Hudson Jr.

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Malevich, Kasimir (1878–1935) Russian painter, an important pioneer of geometric abstract art. Malevich absorbed ideas from cubism (Léger in particular), and futurism. His experiments with the fragmentation and multiplication of images include The Knife Grinder (1912). Malevich founded the suprematism movement (1913), and later concentrated on the development of constructivism.

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Malevich, Kazimir Severinovich (1878–1935). Russian artist, he built many architectural models (arkhitektoniki) of projects that would have been difficult to show graphically. He was a pioneer of Suprematism. He influenced El Lissitzky, activities in the Bauhaus, and, indirectly, aspects of Deconstructivism.


Malevich (1959);
Zhadova (1982)