Portrait of a Man by Kazimir Malevich

Portrait of a Man is a painting by Kazimir Malevich from 1912. Some believe the model to actually been a gentleman by the name of Alexei Morgunov although this has never been confirmed.

The smartly dressed man wears a yellow tie with white shirt and a dark blue or grey suit jacket. His face is long and narrow, though the artist may have used some of his own flair to alter reality. The model’s nose is equally long and covers a large proportion of his face. A blonde moustache hangs over his top lip and stretches down to his chin. The artist liberally applies colour across the work so that there is a consistency throughout – see how he re-uses the yellow from the tie and moustache across parts of the background. That approach is similar to Fauvism, where a palette might be stretched to cover different elements across a work, moving away from what the artist saw specifically at the time. Malevich also introduces large dabs of paint which are not merged into the rest of the work and allowed to exist by themselves. This is akin to the Impressionist style method of delivering an impression of what the artist originally saw. The background showing through is a grey colour, and so the piece may not have been put on a standard canvas but perhaps some cardboard instead.

The artwork is dated at 55.7 cm x 48.4 cm but relatively little else is known about it. Some of the artist’s paintings have been researched in huge detail, particularly Black Square but other items such as this are still a relative unknown within his oeuvre. Indeed, items still continue to be discovered and placed at auction though they tend to be half-finished paintings or sketches which were gifted to others during his own lifetime and so it is highly unlikely that something as groundbreaking as his major highlights will suddenly appear within someone’s attic anytime soon. Photographs of his exhibitions have also been able to list out his achievements and so items re-appearing today will likely be very much on the fringes of his career, most likely from his earlier years when his reputation was still growing. Artworks such as Portrait of a Man are still important, though, in reminding us as to the versatility of this young painter and the ways in which he tried out different approaches in order to finally arrive at his signature approach in later years.

Alexei Morgunov, who maybe the model in this portrait, was an Avant-Garde painter himself from Russia. The Russian art community would often collaborate together, appreciating the relative safety that they felt in each other’s company. He also worked in the Fauvist style, similar to this portrait, and so the connection is hard to reject out of hand. Many of these painters would produce portraits of each other whilst expressing different ideas of how the future of art should look. These modern-minded individuals would come up against resistance within the art and political communities and so they needed to stick together from time to time in order to best protect themselves as a collective rather than working alone.

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