Lot 10
  • 10

Alexander Mikhailovich Rodchenko

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 GBP
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  • Alexander Mikhailovich Rodchenko
  • Construction No.95
  • signed in Cyrillic, numbered 95 and dated 1919 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 65 by 40cm, 25 1/2 by 15 3/4 in.


The artist's studio
Collection of Varvara Stepanova
Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne
Acquired from the above in 1996


Moscow, 11 Bolshaya Dmitrovka, XIX Vystavka V.Ts.V.B. Otdela IZO Narkomprosa, October 1920, no.100
Moscow, 11 Bolshaya Dmitrovka, Vystavka 4-kh, 1920
Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Rodchenko - Stepanova: Moscow - Paris via Cologne, 1993, no.1
London, Tate Modern; Madrid, Museo Reina Sofia, Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism, 2009-2010, no.49
Vienna, Kunstforum, Love in Times of Revolution: Artist Couples of the Russian Avant-Garde, 14 October 2015 - 31 January 2016


Exhibition catalogue XIX Vystavka V.Ts.V.B. Otdela IZO Narkomprosa, Moscow: Gosizdat, 1920, no.100, p.8 listed
Exhibition catalogue Sieben Moskauer Künstler 1910-1930, Cologne: Galerie Gmurzynska, 1984, p.217 visible in a photograph of the artist's studio
Exhibition catalogue Meister des XX. Jahrhunderts, Cologne: Galerie Gmurzynska, 1987, p.106 visible in a photograph of the artist's studio
P.Noever (ed.), Rodchenko - Stepanova, The Future is Our Only Goal, Munich: Prestel, 1991, pp.10 and 14, visible in photographs of the artist's studios
Exhibition catalogue Rodchenko - Stepanova: Moscow - Paris via Cologne, Cologne: Galerie Gmurzynska, 1993, no.1 illustrated
Exhibition catalogue Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism, London: Tate, 2009, p.46, no.49 illustrated; p.172 listed


Structural Condition: The canvas is unlined and is securely attached to a keyed wooden stretcher. The tacking and turnover edges have been reinforced with a linen strip-lining. This is providing an even and stable structural support. The canvas is inscribed on the reverse. Paint Surface: The paint surface has a relatively even and sympathetic varnish layer. There is a pattern of slightly raised craquelure throughout the composition. This appears stable. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows scattered retouchings, including: 1) small intermittent retouchings on and close to the extreme edges of the composition, 2) four retouchings including a vertical line of retouching with associated spots and lines within the orange pigments in the lower part of the composition, 3) a diagonal line of retouching with associated spots and lines towards the upper left corner of the composition, and 4) a few very small retouchings within the yellow crosshatched diamond. Other very small spots and lines of retouching are also visible. Summary: The painting would therefore appear to be in good and stable condition.
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Catalogue Note

Construction No.95 is one of the most important examples of Russian avant-garde painting ever to appear at auction. Rodchenko painted this iconoclastic work in 1919 just two years before he took easel painting to its logical conclusion with his three monochromatic canvases of primary colours which announced the death of painting.

As an artist, Rodchenko could turn his hand to any medium. His work in advertising, architecture, book illustration, painting and photography has informed a century of design. He and his wife, the artist Varvara Stepanova, were founding members of the Constructivist movement who embraced the Revolution and the industrialisation that was to be the basis of the new society; they believed that art should be a means of production, not expression, to transform everyday life under Socialism.

Stripped down to its essential components of colour and line, the composition of Construction No.95 relies entirely on the contrast between colours, angles and surface textures. These elements describe a space but it is certainly not a conventional three-dimensional space. Line is of paramount importance for the very reason that it is the last remaining form in non-objective art. Rodchenko had declared paint and brushes to be outmoded; his tools were now ‘the press, the roller, the drafting pen, the ruler, and the compass’.

Construction No.95 and the closely related Non-Objective Painting in the collection of MoMA (fig.4) were two of the key works at the ground-breaking exhibition Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism held at Tate Modern in 2009.

An appreciation by Alexander Lavrentiev, grandson of the artist and Professor of the Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and Industry

In 1919 Alexander Rodchenko embarked on an entirely new series of oil paintings and graphic works built around a single concept: the line. He would term the series 'Linearism' and at exhibitions presented these pieces as 'Constructions', each with a separate serial number. In the catalogue of the 19th State Exhibition, under the section relating to his concept of 'Linearism' the present work is listed according to this system as '100. Construction No.95 (on scarlet). 1919'. It was one of only fourteen 'Constructions' in the exhibition and in his title for the painting Rodchenko included the reddish-orange colour of its background.

The lines in these compositions were all painted extremely carefully with a ruler and thin bristle brush. Rodchenko considered the line to be his own invention in art, and in his writing on the subject explains that in his work he emphasised the role of linear composition as the basis of any composition, the skeleton of any structure, sculpture or construction.

This was a period when Rodchenko was developing his theories on the structure of the universe and devoted much thought to the role played by geometric elements – dots, lines, and planes – in painting, and also to the role of the artist and his ability to reveal the laws that underpin the perceived world. Rodchenko was commissioned in 1920 to write an essay on 'The Line' by the Moscow Institute of Artistic Culture, an institute founded by Kandinsky for the study of formal analysis and the synthesis of the arts. In this essay, Rodchenko demonstrates the inevitability of the emergence of Constructivism as a creative principle and philosophy, as the organising principle of all life and means of engineering man’s material surroundings.

Construction No.95 is an exceptionally important work not only because it presents linear construction as the prototype for any architectural structure, it also includes an example of the modular grid in art, a motif which would only become popular in the various fields of art and design much later. The grid system serves as the framework for the layout of the graphic designs of the Swiss school and is present in the works of artists such as Sol LeWitt.

After the close of the 19th State Exhibition all the works submitted by Alexander Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, Wassily Kandinsky and Nikolai Sinezubov were exhibited once again as part of a group show of 'The Four Artists' in the same place at 11 Dmitrovka street in Moscow.

Rodchenko and Stepanova were living at the time in a room in Kandinsky's house at 8 Dolgii pereulok. A contemporary photograph of their studio shows paintings all over the place, some stacked, others hanging, preparation clearly underway for an exhibition in which they were due to participate (fig.3). It was most likely taken by a photographer from the IZO Narkompros reproduction studio who worked closely with Kandinsky. While at the house he may have been asked by them to take pictures of the studio after a session photographing their host's work.