Bubnovy Valet 8. Head of a Peasant by Kazimir Malevich

Here again we find the hard working lives of local Russians captured within the oeuvre of Kazimir Malevich. He continually returned to this theme for inspiration, even as his style would evolve over time.

This sketch centres in on a single face of a peasant, which is a rare compositional style for Kazimir Malevich. He uses heavy gradients of tone which helps to produce a real feeling of depth to the artwork, when normally he is best remembered for his flat plains of colour in a more abstract style. The face here almost resembles some of the old African sculptures, with an elongated structure, which is narrower than the subject would really have been in reality. A simple rounded shape then wraps around the forehead to create an image of hair and behind him is a flurry of limbs, perhaps suggesting that this image was originally part of a larger artwork that for some reason became cropped at a later date. Peasant life was, of course, not unusual within this artist’s career and he worked hard in drawing attention to the lives of the working poor within Russia, who at some times were oppressed by the ruling powers.

Bubnovy Valet, as used in the title of this drawing, refers to the Jack Of Diamonds, which was the name of a group of artists who were also known as the Russian Avant-Garde. There was a famous exhibition in which French Cubists would display much of their work alongside a number of related Russian artists, including Malevich himself. The early 20th century was filled with a number of groups of young artists who felt stronger when combining their efforts in order to promote modern art styles. Similar groups would appear within France and Germany, and also earlier influences had already arrived there from several notable Italian artists as the overall movement drew in creatives from right across the continent.

Malevich became a part of a group of artists known as the Russian Avant-Garde and their main ambition was to bring about modern art styles and spread them throughout the mainstream art scene, pushing back against the resistance of more traditionally-minded authorities. Marc Chagall was also a part of this movement and his work included White Crucifixion, Paris through the Window and Green Violinist. He clearly worked in a different manner to that of Maelvich but their principles were certainly similar in that expression and innovation were to be encouraged. Their location within Eastern Europe was not suited to these kinds of beliefs and so they had to work hard to get acceptance for their work, with Chagall eventually deciding to move abroad, such was his need to protect his own self-expression.

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