MALEVICH (KASIMIR SEVERINOVICH) Collection relating to the life and work of the Russian avant-garde Suprematist artist and art theorist, Kazimir Malevich, comprising correspondence with fellow artists and writers, theoretical writings and other papers
Lot 234*
Collection relating to the life and work of the Russian avant-garde Suprematist artist and art theorist, Kazimir Malevich, comprising correspondence with fellow artists and writers, theoretical writings and other papers
£ 150,000 - 250,000
US$ 190,000 - 320,000

Lot Details
MALEVICH (KASIMIR SEVERINOVICH) Collection relating to the life and work of the Russian avant-garde Suprematist artist and art theorist, Kazimir Malevich, comprising correspondence with fellow artists and writers, theoretical writings and other papers
Collection relating to the life and work of the Russian avant-garde Suprematist artist and art theorist, Kazimir Malevich, comprising correspondence with fellow artists and writers, theoretical writings and other papers, in Russian, some 340 typed and handwritten pages in ink and pencil, folio and smaller, Nemchinovka, Leningrad, Moscow, Berlin, Vitebsk and elsewhere, c.1913-1935


To Anatolii Vasilievich Lunacharsky,People's Commissar of Enlightenment;
Autograph letter signed " K.Malevich", to one of his staunchest supporters, reflecting on his lifelong struggle with critics and government officials ("...the barbaric attitude of Contemporary culture..."), complaining of their attitude towards the New Art, referencing Krylov's fable The Rooster and the Pearl, and asking him to have the paintings acquired by the, soon to close, Vitebsk Museum of Modern Art returned and complaining about the recent assaults on the New Art by the Soviet press ("It's too bad that Pravda has taken control of all the truth..."), 1 page, Moscow, November 1921 (Malevich 122)

To Grigorii Nikolaevich Petnikov, poet;
Autograph letter signed "with formal-objectless greetings, KazM ", discussing at length Bukharin's article on the Fifteen Years exhibition, ("My Black Square is mentioned in the papers, and Bukharin himself makes mention of it. All mentions, of course, are in terms of harsh persecution... Yes, I'm a real hero, a revolutionary, having brought Bourgeois Art to an end, when actually the Socialist Bolsheviks did..."), explaining his Black Square ("The black square is the reality of life...") and the notion of non-objectivity ("'s not the death of Art, but the death of the object in art..."), associating nature with the non-objective, while the man-made world is the objective, revealing he is thinking of writing about the history of Futurism, and telling of an artistic challenge ("a duel") set by the artists of the AKHR to make a painting from nature and a figure study ("'s a shame there's no stadium..."), and mentioning a trip to Moscow with his wife and mother to secure the bread ration, 6pp, Nemchinovka, 15-28 July 1933 (Malevich 212); with another page, possibly a draft; autograph draft of an unknown letter in which he talks in poetical terms about nature, the coming of summer and his treatment for cancer ("...I lie here everyday on a special table underneath the breath of Roentgen's rays...I'm already dreaming of the day when I will check out of pain and check into the green life of summer... Aside from Roentgen's spirit that is breathing on me, I bestir my own spirit, in order to restore with it strength my former objectless soul, since now the objective images in various detestable pictures are weighing on me ..."), 1 page, [Leningrad, c.12 June 1934] (Malevich 217); the remaining correspondence to Petnikov describes life in Nemchinovka and his critical financial situation (he will rely on "divine providence") -- an incident on the Workers' Boulevard in Leningrad when he was attacked and beaten (Malevich 189) -- feeling miserable in Leningrad (he likens the city to a rainy village where the very last sunflower in the garden was knocked down by boisterous kids), sitting in the room where he painted Petnikov's portrait which cheers him (Malevich 187) -- celebrating the New Year and describing an incident with a spilt can of food -- his need to describe every day of his life now it is coming to an end, and reproaching himself for not describing the beauty of nature in his paintings (Malevich 214a), 16pp, [c.1930-1934] (8)

To Ivan Vasilievich Kliunkov, painter and sculptor;
Autograph letter signed "K.S. Malentovich Black Supremov", written having just finished his chapter on Impressionism for Izologiia , talking of his support of Kliun's participation in the Leningrad Artists of the RSFSR during the First Fifteen Years exhibition in which Malevich had a room to himself - he likes the idea of the exhibition but not the works themselves ("The Russian Museum bought my column, and the Tretiakov Gallery bought a painting..."), describing in mouth-watering detail a lavish banquet at the Hotel Astoria, his own work ("...I dream of creating a contemporary classic in a single complete building as an architectural problem..."), his isolation from the Academy and the Union of Soviet Artists, sending him some folk songs he has discovered and his thoughts on the origins of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, 6pp, Leningrad, 12 December 1932 (Malevich 209); with an autograph letter signed ("K. Mal"), opening with a humorous poem written under his pseudonym, Aivaovsky-Listikov, "Ivan Vasilievich – my friend, once and futrid,/The air in the art world has become quite putrid./This life of mine now hangs by a thread,/They'd melt me like wax until I'd be dead...", musing on illness, death and nature, quoting Pushkin and Savrasov, and discussing the sale of Girl with a Comb in her Hair [to the State Tretiakov Gallery] and Girl with a Red Pole ("...just because I am sick doesn't mean I'm forced to sell my work for pennies...") (Malevich 216) -- another regarding industrial posters they are designing together (Malevich 215) -- and, written at the end of his life, ("...I have more on my plate at this time than ever before, theory and painting and my autobiographical monograph..."), planning one thematic picture to show the new generation of artists the importance of the Impressionists for the development of non-objective art, ending by speaking longingly of the summer landscape, but still managing a final indignant criticism of Dinamov's article on the new art in Pravda, with hurried postscript in Natalia Malevich's hand "Ivan Vasilievich: Please come the moment you get this letter" (Malevich 218); with two envelopes, one depicting a Soviet militiaman (14 June 1934), 13pp, [1932-1934] (6)

To Mikhail Vasilievich Matiushin, painter and musician;
Autograph letter signed "Farewell K.Mal", including a drawing, seeing the war as a "looming energy...a force that can work miracles... it is painful to see the will of a whole big nation... paralysed and is strength [here a diagram of four lines with circles at each end]...equilibrium...a pendulum weight will swing over to the other side and with its weight make a barricade...", his plans to publish a new monthly magazine "Supremus" with him to be part of it, listing the artists and poets he wishes to be involved ("I want to bring together people who are honest about Art"), "on 25th I will depart for the front", 5pp, [Moscow, mid-October 1916] (Malevich 72); autograph letter headed "Read this in your close circle, so there are no 'outsiders' around", addressed "Dear Pesochniki [Sand People]", they are united with others in a new existence of Collective Individualism and the need to attain perfection, "now I understand the meaning of Suprematism...I have seen the line of economy and I establish it as the fifth dimension of our perfection", adding "local news" concerning his health, his book about individualism and the collective "I", his lecture work and a march of workers carrying Suprematist banners ("the victory of Suprematism"), 7pp, [Vitebsk, before 28 January 1920] (Malevich 101); other correspondence with Matiushin comprises: a draft of a longer letter to Matiushin (Malevich 12), speaking of "trans-sense" ("...And not a single line must be drawn without an awareness of this principle for only then are we alive..") and of staging futuristic performances in Moscow and Petrograd -- three postcards ("...Drop your paintbrush and prepare the music, there are a goodly number of Painting warriors in our ranks... something new will come from Suprematism..." and encouraging him to strive towards new forms of sound) (Malevich 47, 51a, 52) -- an unpleasant meeting of the Jack of Diamonds group and pessimism about the future as he leaves for the front (Malevich 71) -- letter in pencil from Sharkovschizna province ("...We live in a field like geese..."), asking for news of exhibitions and discussing the poet Guro -- talking of the publication of his journal and the proposed content of the first two issues ("...we're going to print the opera Victory... Cubism, Picasso, Leger, Cubism, Divisionism...") (Malevich 77) -- "...I rejoice that on the pages of Supremus we will meet again after a long separation in our common joint work...Before me rises the life [of an idea] hidden in the crude angles of protruding planes...A crudeness that preserves the life of ideas..."(Malevich 80) -- confirming his new magazine will be strictly Suprematist in nature and asking him to participate -- on the magazine's progress written from the 56th Reserve Infantry division, "...Supremas is moving forward, both the magazine and the painting...What awaits us and what awaits our art? Where will it go and what will the new Nation ask of it and of the artist (possibly typed draft of Malevich 85) -- announcing a "party of Suprematist economists in Art" (the future UNOVIS) (draft in pencil of Malevich 100) -- asking for his works Red Square and the big Cubist piece [ Portrait of Mikhail Matiushin] (Malevich 176) -- and one other draft letter in pencil asking him to send articles, both musical and about dimensions, c.38pp, [1916-1929] (16)

Other correspondents include artist and ceramicist Nikolai Suetin, complaining there is no work for artists in Moscow ("It's the end, end, end for everyone") (Malevich 149), on Suprematist constructions, filmmaking, the proposed architectonics lab ("...the entire European artistic architecture will follow us...") and Suprematist architecture, 12pp, [1927-1931], with two envelopes (10); writer and critic Osip Brik ("Long live new Art resonated in the halls") (Malevich 95); Boris Vladimirovich Ender; Vera Mikhailovna Ermolaeva, autograph letter addressed to the "Dear Comrades" of the UNOVIS in Vibesk, on the buying of provisions (" Moscow bread is 1,600 rubles...if the prices are the same in Vitebsk, then there's no point taking the trouble...And we'll also need a little stove...isn't it awful how such nonsense takes a person hostage..."), 1 page, [address panel on reverse postmarked 18 May 1921] (Malevich 118a); and Tereza Solomonovana, note informing her that Suetin has sent her some dishes decorated in the Suprematist style to be photographed for the journal, 1 page, [possibly 1923]


'Toward Pure Action', autograph manuscript, with annotations, of Malevich's manifesto on modern art published in the first number of the UNOVIS [Affirmers of the New Art] almanac (1920), an emphatic declaration of the advent of new art and new modernity, 4pp, Vitebsk, 1920 -- 'Painterly Proofs', typescript with annotations and typed signature, discussing the theory of cubism and the painterly depiction of the new reality on canvas and in space, the notion of the fourth dimension and the validity of non-objective art, 26pp, Vitebsk, September 1920 -- 'Theory of the Complementary Element' and 'Introduction into the Theory of the Complementary Element in Art', typescripts with handwritten annotations, 33pp and 45pp; with Malevich's notes on other artists (Mashkov, Kuprin) written on the reverse of a telephone bill of the Swedish-Dutch-Russian telephone company, 1 page -- a Critical assessment of Russian Futurism, 4pp -- notes on desertion and the predilection of certain people to participate in war, in pencil, crossed through and annotated "To Rewrite", 1 page -- notes on Benois on Suprematism, mentioning Black Square, 1 page -- the story of a tree and its struggle for survival, 3pp; and articles from other artists and writers including -- Treatise headed Ozenfant and Jeanneret, on contemporary painting, taking in Matisse, the role of Braque and Picasso in the development of Cubism, Purism, and the Internationalization of art, 24pp, 1928 -- typescript of K. Rozhdestvenky's speech at the Moscow Museum of Artistic Culture, 6pp, 28 March 1926 with typescript of his Cezanne's System, 25pp and Supremetism World as Non-Objectiveness, 40pp -- Vera Ermolaeva's article 'About the Study of Cubism', typescript with handwritten dedication, 5pp, Vitebsk, 28 May 1920; and her signed report 'Scientific-visual display of the Museum of Artistic Culture", 4pp, Vibesk, 11 January 1925 -- Article on Frank Lloyd Wright's manifesto addressed to European architects and critics, 4pp -- Article 'Liursa is Speaking', on economics and the art market in the West, and anti-Cubist artistic trends in French art, 6pp; and five others including Goethe's teaching on colours, 1920, some 250pp in all


Official notarized letter, signed by Malevich and two officials, giving his brother Mechislav Kazimirovich Malevich power of attorney, 1 page, Vibesk, 18 July 1922 -- Application to the Presidium of the Pedagogic Soviet, asking that certain students be required to attend his course and that they must bring their works for Malevich's approval, 1 page, 4 January 1921; with another of the same date regarding a student's examination, 1pp (Malevich, p.464, no.14) -- List of art works given to Shterenberg (Head of the Division of the All-Russian Collegium on Matters of Arts and Industry) for the Paris exhibition, 1pp, December 1922 -- Typed memorandum with handwritten inserts to the Commission for the acquisition of works of art by the visual art workers, requesting payment for his artworks, 2pp, Leningrad, 25 April 1925; with a newspaper cutting of the manifesto of UNOVIS, printed in Izvestiia, 17 March 1920; and other material


  • 'THE BLACK SQUARE IS THE REALITY OF LIFE...IT'S NOT THE DEATH OF ART, BUT THE DEATH OF THE OBJECT IN ART': CORRESPONDENCE AND WRITINGS FROM THE FATHER OF SUPREMATISM, illuminating his artistic activities and personal life set against the social and political background of the Soviet era.

    This collection reveals both the personal and artistic preoccupations of Kazimir Malevich, the pioneer of modern abstract painting and whose work and writing had a profound influence on the development on non-objective or abstract art in the twentieth-century. It dates from 1913, shortly after his return from Paris where he had explored Cubism, developing a style and theory which led to his key work Black Square (1915), the keystone of Suprematist art, and ends shortly before his death from cancer in 1935.

    Through the correspondence and the writings, his development as an artist, theorist and defender of Suprematism can be explored. He expounds his theories on the 'New Art' through his manifesto 'Toward Pure Action', offered here, and speaks in his correspondence of the formation of UNOVIS (Affirmers of the New Art), his teaching at the Vibesk Practical Art School in Belrus and the Leningrad Academy of Arts, all the time railing against the art establishment as represented in his eyes by the writings of Bukharin and Soviet state-backed Socialist Realist art – demonstrated here by his vitriolic letter to Commissar Lunacharsky. With like-minded artists and collaborators, he discusses plans for the launch of a new magazine, Supremus, a project which did not see fruition, painting, film-making and Suprematist architecture.

    In common with many of his fellow countrymen at this time, he is noticeably preoccupied with food and the cold – the lack of one and the harshness of the other - but also writes nostalgically of halcyon summers, mushroom picking, gathering wood and the countryside he loves. He often complains of having an empty stomach and writes of the frustrations of the Soviet system when attempting to obtain a bread ration – in one letter he complains that as the ration was given only to those who worked, he had to pretend his wife was his secretary, and has resorted to posting bread to himself in the country from Leningrad. His description of a lavish feast for the Fifteen Years exhibition is mouth-watering, but at the same time it becomes a polemic against the system ("Workers stood behind the chairs dressed in the style of Old Muscovy...pouring the vodka and wines and serving the food...It was if the old world had broken into the socialist era...There was a feeling that we had suddenly been resettled, or had fallen backward from the verge of Socialism to the year 1910...Now though we sit as hungry as dogs..."). He notes, too, ruefully, that two still lives of groceries by Mashkov are enjoying a lot of success. His fondness for his friends and his sense of the ridiculous is much in evidence – in one letter he describes how he was beaten up by a sailor ("...It was my good fortune that the blow – once again carefully considered by history – landed on my cheekbone...or I would surely have lost an eye...").

    Malevich writes several poignant and nostalgic letters during his final illness, and reproaches himself for not describing the beauty of nature in his painting. In 1934 he writes to Petnikov "The soft, objectless sound of the wind in the forest is pleasant to us for it is not the noise of the city, not the music of mankind, but the music of objectless nature... Wild nature is wonderful, and we too, being wild, can create wondrous phenomena...".

    This collection was formed by the writer and art collector Nikolai Ivanovich Khardzhiev (1903-1996), editor of the works of Mayakovsky and friend of Anna Akhmatova. It was acquired by the present owner in 1997.

    Most of the letters in the collection have been published in Kazimir Malevich: Letters and Documents, compiled and edited by Irina A. Vakar and Tatiana N. Mikhienko, Vol. 1, London, 2015, to which we are indebted. The reference numbers used here (for example Malevich 101) refer to this catalogue.

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