El Lissitzky

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LISSITZKY, EL (Lazar ; 1890–1941), Russian painter. Born in Smolensk province, where his parents were hatters, he earned his living by giving drawing lessons. He was unable to enter the Academy of Art in St. Petersburg because the Jewish quota was filled. Instead he left for Germany, to study in Darmstadt. At the outbreak of World War i he returned to Russia. It was only after the 1917 Revolution that he could develop his original and versatile talent. When *Chagall was appointed director of the school of art at Vitebsk, Lissitzky joined him there as professor of architecture and graphic arts. In common with Chagall, he was deeply interested in Jewish folklore. Examples of this interest were his watercolor illustrations to the Legend of Prague by M. Broderzon, and his color lithograph illustrations to the *Ḥad Gadya. These were distinguished by the bright, childlike colors of folk art. He also collaborated in the production of Jewish children's books, developing new ideas for typography and layout. Strongly influenced by Casimir Malevich, leader of the Russian cubists, Lissitzky was a major force in a related movement, constructivism. In this movement, which believed that the purpose of art was not necessarily to beautify, he tried to integrate his aesthetic concepts into Marxist theory. In 1919 he painted his first "prouns," a generic term he was to apply to his mature work, which is based on stereometric elements, fusing aspects of painting with architecture. In 1921 he was appointed professor at the Moscow Academy. However, angered by the government's hostility to the new trends, he joined the artists who left Russia for countries more receptive to radical aesthetic ideas. He lived and worked in Germany, France, Holland, and Switzerland, and at one time collaborated with Ilya Ehrenburg in the publication of a constructivist magazine. In 1925 the progressive museum director Alexander Dorner commissioned Lissitzky to install a special gallery for the showing of abstract art in the Landesmuseum at Hanover. The room was later destroyed by the Nazis. Lissitzky maintained his links with the Soviet regime, and in 1928 returned to Russia. The government, however, employed him only to design pavilions at a number of international exhibitions abroad, and also the restaurant at the Soviet section of the 1939 New World's Fair. He died of tuberculosis.


S. Lissitzki-Kueppers, El Lissitzky (1968); Roth, Art, 800f.

[Alfred Werner]

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Lissitzky, El ( Eliezor Markovich) (1890–1941) Innovative Russian painter. Malevich inspired him to create a series of paintings that simulate 3-D architectural constructs. In 1921, Lissitzky arranged an important exhibition of contemporary Russian abstract art in Berlin. The Bauhaus promoted his ideas. See also constructivism