Lot 64
  • 64

Kazimir Severinovich Malevich

250,000 - 350,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Kazimir Malevich
  • The Secret of Temptation with Portrait of Ivan Kliun on the verso
  • signed in Latin Kazmir Malewicz and dated 1908 l.l.; further indistinctly titled in Cyrillic on the reverse
  • watercolour, gouache and pencil on card
  • 23 by 25cm, 9 by 9 3/4 in.


Mieczyslaw Malevich, the artist's brother, Moscow
Nikolai Khardzhiev, Moscow
Vadim Kosovoi, Paris
Sotheby's London, Impressionist and Modern Drawings and Watercolours, 29 June 1988, lot 334 (consigned by the above)
Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne and Zug
Private European collection
Christie's London, Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper, 28 June 2001, lot 459
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner


J.-C.Marcadé, Malévitch, Paris: Nouvelles Editions Francaises-Casterman, 1990, p.48, no.58 recto illustrated; p.90, no.126 verso illustrated 
A.Nakov, Kazimir Malewicz. Catalogue Raisonné, Paris: Adam Biro, 2002, p.76, no.F-87 recto and verso illustrated


Support The artist has used both watercolour and gouache and has applied the pigments to a thin card. This primary support is in a good condition. There are a few slight surface scratches lower left and at the centre top, also in the bush on the right. These little imperfections, in my opinion, are caused by broken glass at some point in the life of the painting. This accident has also caused slight discolouration in a line running down to the left in an arc in the upper right quadrant and another vertical line of it running through the figure on the left making a ‘V’ shape at the foot. These were probably caused by the movement of pollution through the glass and also light refraction on the image. This infers that the glass was left cracked for some period of time. Medium The watercolour and gouache medium is exceptionally fresh and bright. Under magnification some craquelure is visible on the hair of the three figures and in other small scattered areas. The verso of the thin card, showing a pencil portrait, has some general and uneven darker staining and also a few scattered fox marks. The areas towards the corners are probably caused by glue from an earlier mounting. In the hair of the subject, at the centre there is a small scuffed area where a hinge has been pulled away. The extreme edges were obscured by the mount, so I cannot comment on these areas of the verso. This work was viewed outside studio conditions.
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Catalogue Note

At the start of 1911, Kazimir Malevich exhibited three large bodies of work at the Moscow Salon which he termed ‘The Yellow Series’, ‘The White Series’ and ‘The Red Series’. The works in the ‘Yellow Series’ are the earliest, created by Malevich in 1907-1908 and characterized by a golden-yellow palette. This series is overwhelmingly religious in subject-matter with titles such as The Holy Ones, Angels, Prayer and Angels Carrying a Deceased Soul to Heaven. 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.