Lot 13
  • 13

Varvara Fedorovna Stepanova

12,000 - 18,000 GBP
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  • Varvara Fedorovna Stepanova
  • Textile Design in Yellow and Black
  • ink and gouache on paper
  • 14.5 by 20cm, 5 3/4 by 7 3/4 in.
  • Executed in 1924


A gift from Alexander Lavrentiev to the present owner


Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Wilhelm-Hack Museum, Schwestern der Revolution: KünstlerInnen der russischen Avantgarde, 20 October 2012 - 17 February 2013, no.106


A.Lavrentiev, Varvara Stepanova: A Constructivist Life, London: Thames and Hudson, 1988, p.97 illustrated b/w
Exhibition catalogue Schwestern der Revolution: KünstlerInnen der russischen Avantgarde, Munich: Hirmer, 2012, p.189, no.106 illustrated


In overall good condition. The sheet has been hinged to the mount at each corner. It has discoloured slightly in line with age and there are spots of dirt in places. Held behind glass in a simple black frame. Unexamined out of frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Like all production, the textile industry had been brought to its knees by the years of war and revolution and by the early 1920s it was an industry on the brink. Once Russia’s largest industrial employer, it would not regain its pre-war level of production until 1927. The situation was so dire in 1922 and 1923 that most of the textiles being manufactured in the Soviet Union were entirely plain. In a bid to call a halt to the production crisis an official appeal was published in Pravda in 1923 calling for artists and designers to come forward. Varvara Stepanova, Liubov Popova and Alexander Rodchenko were the first to respond.

This group of young artists not only created, they also taught at the state art and technical school, VKhUTEMAS, whose purpose was to create artists for industry (a task so important students and teachers were given priority over rations and students were able to defer military service). Before the Revolution, almost all textile designs were ordered via sample albums from Paris and the most popular motifs were flowers, wildlife and historical scenes. The Constructivists, whose art was ipso facto one of construction, not composition, replaced figurative motifs with abstract geometric forms. Notable for their stylistic economy, most of these designs rely on the use of just one colour with black and white. Their strikingly simple creations are free from class references and cultural baggage, in keeping with the internationalist aims of early Marxism-Leninism, but this simplicity was also born of necessity. The pitiful state of the industry, the lack of equipment and the inexperience of the newly arrived rural workers who manned the reopened factories was an undeniable influence on the designs of this first wave of Soviet textile designers.

The Constructivists had formally renounced painting in 1921 because it served no useful purpose beyond the decorative and was bound up with the bourgeois values of the capitalist past. The Productivist movement, to which Stepanova and Popova belonged, took this further, pushing art into industry. In his article ‘From Easel Painting to the Printed Fabric’ for the journal LEF, Osip Brik declared that ‘a cotton print is as much a product of artistic culture as painting’.

Unlike Vladimir Tatlin’s tower or many of the early Soviet architectural designs, textiles were among the few projects which it was possible to realise in the 1920s, given the paucity of raw materials. Even so, most of these designs remained academic rather than practical exercises. The producers encountered great difficulty in raising the enthusiasm of the populace for the new class-conscious printed cloth and rural consumers in particular were reluctant to abandon their bourgeois floral prints. Stepanova’s ‘battle against naturalistic design in favour of the geometrisisation of form’ was to be hard won.