Kazimir Malevich’s monumental Landscape (1911) belongs to ‘The Red Series’, a group of works characterised by gestural brushstrokes and an expressive use of colour, referencing both Fauvism and Cubism and anticipating the artist’s move towards Suprematism.
‘This early landscape shows the artist absorbing the lessons of his European counterparts while moving in a wholly unique direction, towards what would become his most significant and radical style,’ confirms Jay Vincze, Senior International Director, Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s.
In 1927, Malevich was invited to Germany to show his work for the first time outside Russia. For this retrospective, which would finally launch his reputation on an international scale, he took with him a select group of works he considered the best of his career up to that point. Among these was Landscape.
In Germany Malevich explored avenues for emigrating from Soviet Russia, where the worsening political situation had made it increasingly difficult for avant-garde artists to work freely. Ultimately his attempts to find work at the Bauhaus failed, and a disappointed Malevich returned to Russia before the retrospective ended. But he left his valuable collection with a friend in Berlin, where he felt it would be safer.
Malevich would never return to Germany, and the rise of totalitarianism there and in his home country resulted in the artist losing control of his works abroad before his death in 1935. But the pieces carefully selected by Malevich for the 1927 retrospective, more than any others, shaped his singular artistic legacy. Indeed, that Malevich chose to include Landscape in so many of his seminal exhibitions — many of which are now recognised as landmark moments in the development of early 20th-century abstraction — testifies to its importance within the development of his art, as he journeyed from Primitivism to Suprematism and the now legendary ‘icon of nothingness’, the Black Square.
By distilling the diverse visual references of Cézanne, Braque and Picasso, Malevich has created a powerful and unique work of art
Landscape resurfaced after the war and was acquired by the Kunstmuseum Basel, where it hung for more than 50 years before being restituted to the heirs of the artist. Now offered from a private collection at Christie’s in London, this is the first time the work has come to auction in two generations.
The painting’s motif of peasant dwellings surrounded by stylised treetops was borrowed from Russian primitive art. Its sculptural use of colour recalls techniques employed by Cézanne, while the block-like depiction of the buildings nods to the Cubist compositions of Braque and Picasso. In distilling these diverse visual references, Malevich created a powerful and unique work.
In the early 1930s, Malevich would return to creating ‘pure’ landscapes, producing Landscape with Five Houses, Landscape with a White House, and Red House, all of which are in the collection of the State Russian Museum.
‘Malevich was one of the most dynamic Russian avant-garde artists,’ says Vincze. ‘His striving to redefine the pictorial plane resulted in an incredibly varied and ultimately hugely influential body of work, most of which is to be found in public institutions around the globe. We are honoured to present such a rare work to auction for the first time at Christie’s in London.’