LONDON – Russian artist Kasmir Malevich is best known for his Futuristic, geometrical works – but Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art, now open at Tate Modern reveals how the artist began his career painting peasant life and religious scenes. His exposure to the work of French Modernists such as Monet, Picasso and Matisse, however, ultimately lead to the bold, colourful visuals of geometric abstraction for which he is now famous. 

Malevich_White-SquareKazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1929.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

The artist’s Self Portrait, specifically, displays the expressive brushstrokes and emotive colour employed by the French modernist painters. In his work Morning in the Village After Snowstorm, Malevich created something entirely unique by combining elements of cubism, futurism and his affinity for Russian subject matter to produce a provincial scene suggestive of the work of Picasso and Braque. 

Malevich_Self-PortraitKazimir Malevich, Self Portrait, 1908-1910.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

Tate Modern collaborated with the Khardzhiev Collection, Amsterdam and the Greek Costakis Collection, whose founders Nikolai Khardzhiev and George Costakis saved hundreds of Malevich works from destruction at a time when they were banned by the Soviet government. A further 150 pieces have come from around the globe, including the State Russian Museum, MoMA and the Centre Pompidou

Earlier this summer at the Important Russian Art sale, Sotheby’s sold Malevich’s early gouache study, Head of Peasant. Part of a series of primitivist gouaches from about 1911, it is thought to have been a study for his painting, Peasant Funeral, which was exhibited in 1927 in Berlin, but went missing, and its whereabouts have remained a mystery ever since. 

Russia is receiving a revival in London this year with the Russia Visualised programme that celebrates the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014, with several leading galleries and cultural institutions participating across the city. Calvert 22, a not-for-profit gallery supporting the contemporary art and culture scenes in Russia and Eastern Europe, is exhibiting Russian photography, while the V&A will display a collection of some 150 set and costume designs of Russian Avant-garde theatre from the First World War, and the Science Museum recounts the story of the USSR Space Race through scientific artefacts. 

Malevich is on at Tate Modern from 15 July until 26 October.