Soldier (Reservist) of the First Division by Kazimir Malevich

This painting from late 1914 can be found at MoMA in New York, USA. They refer to it under the title of Reservist of the First Division and it forms part of a large collection of his work to be found at this institution.

This is an interesting addition to his oeuvre featuring, as it does, a number of foreign items collaged together on to the paper. This does represent something experimental within his career and reminds us more of Cubist artists such as Gris and Braque. Malevich would not work in this manner very often at all, making this a fairly unique item. He tended to prefer oils only, other than with his drawings and illustrations which helped to fill other artistic challenges. He illustrated many publications, some of which held a political stance and this was entirely normal for artists at that time to become a little involved in the political world, normally on the more revolutionary front. Malevich was inspired by the Russian Avant-Garde and this encouraged him to carefully consider the mediums that he used, as well as the content that he covered. He also helped to create a movement called the Cubist-Futurists, who took elements of other movements into their own unique combination.

Essentially, this is a military portrait, but in a style in which this genre has probably never been seen. There are parts of the body strewn across the canvas, though the title helps us to piece together the items fairly quickly. The subject was a reservist below forty three who was awaiting service, which at that time was always fairly likely to occur sooner or later. Russia was a nation going through a turbulent period and so the army was a major part of life at that time, even domestically as internal problems continued to surface. Malevich is quoted as speaking about this piece at around the time of its inception, though his comments were somewhat philosophical and slightly hard to deciper. He basically explained about a spiritual aspect to the shapes of this portrait and the large square which floats centrally.

You may notice lettering also within this piece and Malevich, along with other members of the Cubist umbrella, would feature newspaper cut-outs within their paintings, essentially stuck in as a collage. This was unusual and provided a real texture and point of time to each piece, which many have since enjoyed. Soldier (Reservist) of the First Division actually has a real thermometer hanging from the centre of the paper as well, which is another bizarre but symbolic addition to this highly unusual piece which takes pride of place within the collection of MoMA, who themselves have one of the finest arrays of modern art anywhere in the world. A number of famous Russian artists are covered here besides just Malevich.

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