In a questionnaire for an encyclopaedia, Lazar Markovich (El) Lissitzky listed his activities in the following order: engineer-architect, painter, photographer and typographer. Trained first and foremost as an architect, Lissitzky found himself irresistibly drawn to the design of books, newspapers and posters. It was in his book illustrations that he expressed some of his most radical design innovations as he fully exploited the possibilities offered by modern printing and photographic techniques. Devoted to what he called 'book building' El Lissitzky started on a journey in which he radically reconstructed the appearance of printed books.
From 1916-1919, Lissitzky devoted himself to the cause of Russian Jewish Art and joined the circle of Marc Chagall and other Jewish graphic artist-illustrators whose works were published in the Jewish center of Kiev. His 1917 illustrations for Sichat Chullin, an adaptation of the 16th Century Legend of Prague was one of the great book illustrations of the twentieth century. The book became both a catalyst and a benchmark for the movement. In his 1919 illustrations for Chad Gadya, a fairy tale told at Passover, Lissitzky returned to the 'illuminated manuscript' format that he used in Sichath Chullin and daringly combines traditional iconography and Hebraic lettering with his own emerging avant-garde style.
El Lissitzky became Professor of Architecture and Graphic Arts at the Vitebsk Popular Art Institute in 1919, under the directorship of Marc Chagall, and subsequently under Kasimir Malevich in 1919/1920. While working in Vitebsk in 1920, Lissitzky saw a performance of the Russian futurist opera Sieg über die Sonne (Victory over the Sun), which was first produced in 1913 with a libretto by Aleksei Kruchenykh, the music by M.V. Matyushin and sets and costumes designed by Kazimir Malevich. In 1923 the Kestner Gesellschaft commissioned a second portfolio by Lissitzky and he choose as a theme Kruchenykh's Sieg über die Sonne. In recasting the opera as an "electromechanical" show for figurines, Lissitzky used Malevich's signature black and red squares but transformed Malevich's Suprematist shapes into Proun figures constructed of transparent prisms and metallic rods, bending and receding in space.
The portfolio is comprised of an extraordinary series of images and represents Lissitzky's idea for characters in a kind of stage spectacle based on a synthesis of modern art and the latest technology. The frontispiece of the portfolio and its red covers, which when closed form a impressive black 'F', are in themselves a masterpiece of typographical design and layout.
The influence of Lissitzky's portfolio Sieg über die Sonne was condiderable - notably on the production of print portfolios at the Bauhaus in Weimar by such artists as Archipenko, Kandinsky and Moholy-Nagy (see lot 275).