‘The explosion of a great volcano’ was how Malevich described the first Knave of Diamonds exhibition in 1910, a dramatic contrast to the flat and eternal plain of a serene and decorative art as he put it, that favoured calm, lyrical landscapes, shepherds, rising Ukrainian moons, love songs and psychological portraits. Instead, these paintings ‘were like a multi-coloured flame’. Although Cézannist elements had been advancing gradually among Russians artists, wrote Malevich, the power of feeling which it unleashed was unprecedented. In a humourous chart drawn up by Kuprin in 1913 portraying the Knave of Diamonds as a planetary system, Rozhdestvensky is the ring around ‘Planet Konchalovsky’ (Saturn), which has an incomparably greater magnetic pull thanks to its size, mass, volume and density. Though the two artists incorporated French influences in their work very differently, Rozhdestvensky has all the vibrancy of Konchalovsky’s palette in these landscapes of 1920.
The son of a priest, Rozhdestvensky moved to Moscow aged 16 to study at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture where he was taught by Serov, Korovin, Arkhipov and Pasternak. He travelled extensively in Russia and Central Asia after the war and participated in an impressive number of international exhibitions, throughout Europe as well as Japan and America.