Lot 2
  • 2

Kazimir Severinovich Malevich

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
2,098,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Kazimir Malevich
  • Head of a Peasant
  • gouache and charcoal on paper laid on board


A gift from the artist to Hugo Häring (1882-1958), Berlin/Biberach an der Riss
To his widow, Roma Bahn-Häring (1896-1975)
Thence by descent to Ruth Bahn-Flessburg, daughter of the above, in 1975
Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne
Acquired from the above by the father of the present owners in 1977


Moscow, Donkey's Tail, 1912, no.169 or 170
Kursk, Society of Artists, April 1913
Moscow, 16-aya gosudarstvennaya vystavka. Personal'naya vystavka K.S. Malevicha. Ego put' ot impressionizma k suprematizmu (16th State Exhibition. K.S. Malevich - His Path from Impressionism to Suprematism), 1920
Berlin, Lehrter Bahnhof, Sonderaustellung Kasimir Malewitsch. Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung, 7 May - 30 September 1927
Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Avantgarde Osteuropa 1910-1930, October - December 1967, no.112
Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Kasimir Malewitsch zum 100. Geburtstag, June - July 1978


Exhibition catalogue Avantgarde Osteuropa 1910-1930, Berlin, 1967, p.92, no.112 listed, incorrectly catalogued
T.Andersen, Malevich. Catalogue raisonné of the Berlin exhibition 1927, including the collection in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1970, p.85, no.19 illustrated; pp.61-62 the present work is visible on two photographs taken at Malevich's exhibition in Moscow in 1920 
Kasimir Malewitsch zum 100. Geburtstag, Cologne: Galerie Gmurzynska, 1987, p.76 illustrated
L.Shadowa, Kasimir Malewitsch und sein Kreis, Munich: Shirmer/Mosel, 1978, p.357 the present work is visible on a photograph taken at the 1927 exhibition in Berlin
D.Sarabianov, A. Shatskikh, Kazimir Malevich. Zhivopis', Teoriya, Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1993, p.224, no.127 illustrated
A.Nakov, Kazimir Malewicz. Catalogue raisonné, Paris: Adam Biro, 2002, p.115, no.F-280 illustrated

Catalogue Note

The superb provenance and well-documented exhibition history make Head of a Peasant the most exciting work on paper by Kazimir Malevich to appear at auction in recent memory. It is part of a series of primitivist gouaches the artist executed between 1911 and 1912 on the theme of peasant life, and is considered to be a study for his large oil painting Peasant Funeral (1911, fig.1), which was last exhibited in Berlin in 1927 and has since been lost. The majority of the surviving gouaches from this series, such as the Floor Polishers (fig.5), are now in museum collections, notably the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Another gouache closely related to the present work, also known as Head of a Peasant, was offered in these salerooms in 1993, establishing a new auction record for a work on paper by the artist which remains unbroken to date (fig.2).

The present work was first exhibited in Moscow in 1912 at the ‘Donkey’s Tail’ exhibition organised by Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova. The following year Malevich included it in an exhibition in Kursk, the city he had lived in as young man between 1896 and 1904. According to Dr Aleksandra Shatskikh, Malevich showed almost all of his pictures from the ‘Donkey’s Tail’ exhibition there, and a photograph of the Kursk exhibition shows Head of a Peasant hanging among other works on paper and oils from Malevich’s primitivist period (fig.6). The subsequent exhibitions in which this work appears are some mark of the importance which Malevich clearly attached to it. It was chosen for inclusion in his large retrospective exhibition ‘Malevich - His Path from Impressionism to Suprematism’ which opened in Moscow in 1920 (figs.7 and 8). In 1927 he took it with him when he travelled from Leningrad via Poland to Berlin, where with the help of German architect Hugo Häring, he was able to hold a retrospective show as a section of the ‘Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung’. While very few records survive, four photographs taken in the galleries allow us to reconstruct the exhibition, and one of the them shows the present work in situ (fig.9). In 1970, Troels Andersen published the catalogue raisonné of the Berlin exhibition. He identified 70 oils and gouaches exhibited in Berlin, and lists the present work as no.19 (fig.10).

In circumstances that are not entirely clear, Malevich was ordered to return to the Soviet Union before the exhibition closed. Departing for Leningrad in early June 1927, he left his paintings and theoretical writings behind. Unable to leave the Soviet Union once he had returned, Malevich would never see them again. According to Andersen, one painting was sold at the exhibition, two were given by the artist as a gift to Häring and his wife, while the remaining pictures were crated and deposited with a transport company. They now form the core of the important Malevich collection of the Stedelijk Museum, while others are in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The present gouache was one of the two works that the artist presented to Häring and his wife, the second being the aforementioned Head of a Peasant sold at Sotheby’s in 1993. Upon Häring’s death, it passed to his second wife, the actress Roma Bahn. Her daughter sold it via Galerie Gmurzynska in the mid-1970s.

Much has been written about the influence of Russian icon-painting on Malevich; when first exhibited in 1915, his Black Square famously hung in the top corner of the gallery slightly facing downwards – the traditional position of an icon in a Russian home. The same is true for the importance of the peasant theme in Malevich’s oeuvre, and both these elements are closely related. ‘I came to understand the peasants through icons, saw their faces not as saints, but as ordinary people’, Malevich later wrote in his autobiography (quoted in Kazimir Malevich, Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1988, p.110). ‘It was through icon painting that I understood  the emotional art of the peasants, which I had loved earlier, but whose meaning I had not fully understood’ (Ibid. p.111) Few works by Malevich express these ideas as poignantly as Head of a Peasant. Similar to an icon, it is built up of colour planes that are in contrast with the plane background, and despite this simplicity the image has great emotional depth. The peasant’s face is painted side-on with clear outlines and large almond-shaped eyes, which gives it the flatness typical of Russian icon painting. Here, Malevich’s work also shows affinities with that of Goncharova. Compare the present lot with a work by Goncharova from the early 1910s, for example Peasants Picking Apples (fig.4), which was also shown at ‘Donkey’s Tail’ in 1912.

We would like to thank Dr Aleksandra Shatskikh for her assistance in researching the present lot.