The palette of The Secret of Temptation puts it into the 'Yellow Series’ though the figures depicted against its golden background are far from celestial: not only are the young girls naked, their triangular pubic areas are clearly delineated in light and dark tones. According to the ascetic strictures of Christian art, angels and saints are firmly asexual and to put such carnal characteristics at the heart of a composition is a direct infringement of these rules. Malevich’s approach to this subject and his choice of title speaks volumes about the attitude of the young artist, and in this bright sunny little picture we find an expression of his elevated feelings on sex and the sacred nature of man. The naked women in The Secret of Temptation are depicted in a verdant heavenly landscape; in the background one can just make out the outlines of children, while the figure on the far right appears to be both male and female, a primordial creation of the Almighty before the division of the sexes.
The Blue Rose exhibition of March-April 1907 affected Malevich deeply and a great many of the paintings by this Symbolist group were coloured by a mysterious understanding of gender. One of the stand-out artists of the exhibition, Pavel Kuznetsov, draws on the mystical dimensions of pre-natal motherhood in his paintings of blue fountains in twilight parks which speak of ‘unborn souls’ through dream-like mist.
Closely related to the present work is Malevich’s Woman in Childbirth, another work on card of similar dimensions and also bearing a Polish-style signature with a date on the front (fig.4). For this piece, it is almost as though the artist has zoomed in on the central figure of The Secret of Temptation whom we now see from above her chest. In his extremely direct style, Malevich here explores his thoughts on procreation and the sanctity of sexuality with an image of a birthing woman surrounded by a mass of tiny embryonic forms.
On the reverse of the present work (fig.2) is a pencil portrait by Malevich of Ivan Vasilievich Kliun (1873-1943), an artist with whom he formed a lifelong friendship just at this period when both were turning to Symbolist subjects and were executing works in a similar, ornate style. Malevich would of course turn to pure abstraction in his later work, but this little portrait demonstrates his tremendous natural abilities as a portraitist.
We are grateful to Dr Alexandra Shatskikh for providing this catalogue note.
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