Kazimir Malevich’s Masterpiece: The Story Behind ‘Taking in the Rye’

Kazimir Malevich’s 1912 painting Taking in the Rye offers a glimpse into the artist’s early stylistic and thematic interests. The work depicts several peasant figures harvesting rye in a field, rendered in Malevich’s distinctive simplified, geometric style. This painting is part of Malevich’s extensive series focused on capturing scenes of peasant life in the Russian Empire. Through these pieces, Malevich sought to move away from traditional representational art and instead convey the essence of his subjects.

Taking in the Rye stands as an exemplar of Malevich’s early career prior to his later pioneering of Suprematism, an abstract style he spearheaded. His composition reduces the harvesters to essential lines and shapes, emphasizing their form and movements over realistic detailing. This geometric approach reflects the artist’s aim to transition away from representational art and develop a new visual language. The peasantry was a theme Malevich would revisit even after plunging into pure abstraction.

This work now resides in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which holds a significant collection of Malevich’s art. The museum provides insight into the painter’s continued exploration of peasant subjects against the backdrop of his artistic evolution. Taking in the Rye and related peasant works connect back to Malevich’s Russian roots and capture his vision of the dignity of common folk. Even in abstraction, the essence of these themes persisted in his oeuvre. This painting offers a look at the origins of Malevich’s pioneering vision.

Background on Malevich and the Peasant Theme

To appreciate Taking in the Rye, it is useful to understand Kazimir Malevich’s background and early interests as a painter. He was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1879. His family moved frequently when he was young, spending time in rural villages where Malevich was exposed to peasant life. These early experiences left an impression on the budding artist.

In his twenties, Malevich began to establish himself as a professional painter in Moscow. His early works were largely portraits, landscapes, and genre scenes of peasant life. The hardworking peasants and vivid rural settings reminiscent of his youth supplied Malevich with an endless source of inspiration. He produced dozens of paintings focused on the lives of peasants, known collectively as his “peasant series.”

This recurring interest in the peasant subject reflects Malevich’s ties to his native Ukraine and empathy for the struggles of common folk. Their dignity and perseverance in the face of hardship appealed to him. Peasants represented the essence of the Russian people and spirit for Malevich. Even as his style evolved, he would continue revisiting this favorite theme.

Composition and Description

Turning to Taking in the Rye itself, it depicts several figures, likely women, engaged in cutting rye in a field beneath a broad sky. A barn and haystacks are visible behind them. The limited palette consists mainly of earth tones like ochre, brown, and gray. The brushwork is somewhat coarse, with visible thick paint application.

Malevich flattens and simplifies the space, reducing depth and perspective. The peasant figures themselves are radically stylized, rendered as angular silhouettes dominated by geometric shapes. The striding stance of the workers is conveyed solely through truncated cones and trapezoids.

Artistic Analysis and Significance

This painting displays several hallmarks of Malevich’s mature style even at this relatively early date of 1912. Most striking are the reductions of the human form to basic shapes and colors. This simplification reflects Malevich’s desire to move away from traditional representation and instead evoke the inner essence of his subjects. He wanted to capture the energy and movement of the laborers rather than merely imitate their physical appearance.

By distilling the workers down to geometric figures, Malevich grounds them firmly in the modernist present, not some pastoral past. They become universal symbols of human exertion, not picturesque relics. The abstracted forms foreshadow Malevich’s coming shift toward pure abstraction and minimalism. Taking in the Rye seems perched between representation and abstraction, serving as a bridge toward his Suprematist canvases.

Beyond its innovative style, the painting also gives insight into Malevich’s core philosophies about the meaning of art. He sought to break from the conventions of academic realism in pursuit of new modes of expression. Taking in the Rye shows Malevich striving to find the essence beneath surface appearances. This aligns with his famous dictum, “I transformed myself in the zero of form and emerged from nothing to creation.”

Later Evolution and Legacy

In the years after Taking in the Rye, Malevich would reach the apex of abstraction, removing all references to external reality in his Suprematist works. Despite this radical shift, the peasant motif continued to feature prominently in his art for the rest of his career.

In the late 1920s, Malevich revisited the peasant subject in his works known as “Suprematist peasant women” or “The Peasants.” In these he combines abstracted peasant figures with the colorful shapes of Suprematism, offering a unique hybrid. This demonstrates that the human themes that originally inspired him remained dear.

Malevich’s willingness to continuously evolve his style while retaining connections to his artistic roots makes him a pivotal modernist. Taking in the Rye shows the genesis of his visual language years before his famous Black Square and White on White. By reassessing representational art, Malevich points the way toward pure abstraction.

Taking in the Rye at the Stedelijk Museum

Today, art lovers can view Taking in the Rye at its home, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The Stedelijk houses an exceptional collection of Malevich’s early paintings and drawings from his peasant period up through his Suprematist works.

In addition to Taking in the Rye, some other highlights include Malevich’s 1911-12 Cubo-Futurist works and his abstract Architectons created in the 1920s using architectural forms. The museum’s substantial holdings trace the evolution of his style that Taking in the Rye signals.

As part of its 2013-2014 exhibition “Malevich and the Russian Avant-Garde,” the Stedelijk Museum displayed a wide span of Malevich’s oeuvre. Taking in the Rye featured prominently as a core example of Malevich’s early comingling of modernist and traditional idioms. This underscored its importance as a pivotal painting foreshadowing his mature vision.

Comparison Table of Kazimir Malevich’s Taking in the Rye with Other Key Works

Painting Date Style Description
Taking in the Rye 1912 Early, showing transition to abstraction Peasant figures harvesting rye, simplified geometric forms, earth tone palette
Woodcutter 1912-1913 Early peasant period, showing Cubist influence Forest scene with woodcutter, fractured planes, abstracted forms
The Knife Grinder 1912-1913 Early peasant period, abstracted style Portrait of peasant grinding knife, faceted planes of color
Black Square 1915 Full abstraction, Suprematism Plain black square against white background, reduced to pure form
White on White 1918 Full abstraction, Suprematism All-white canvas, focus on sensation over representation
Suprematist Composition 1915 Geometric abstraction Colors and shapes with no reference to real world
Architectons 1920s Abstract using architectural forms Multicolored abstract structures suggesting architecture
Suprematist Peasant Women 1920s Mixture of abstraction and representation Angular peasant figures overlaid with shapes and colors

In comparison to Malevich’s later pioneering abstract works, Taking in the Rye still retains some representation through its peasant subject matter. However, its simplified geometric forms point toward his increasing abstraction and Suprematist style. The early peasant works help show Malevich’s development that then led to his completely non-objective paintings.

FAQs about Kazimir Malevich’s Taking in the Rye

What year was Taking in the Rye painted?

Taking in the Rye was painted by Kazimir Malevich in 1912.

What art movement is Taking in the Rye associated with?

Taking in the Rye is considered part of Malevich’s early peasant period, before he transitioned to his better known Suprematist style.

What does Taking in the Rye depict?

The painting depicts several peasant figures harvesting rye in a field. The figures are rendered in a simplified, geometricized style.

Where is Taking in the Rye displayed currently?

The painting is part of the collection of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

How does Taking in the Rye relate to Malevich’s artistic development?

The painting represents a transitional work, pointing to Malevich’s coming shift to abstraction. The geometric peasant figures foreshadow his Suprematist style.

What were some of Malevich’s influences for the peasant theme?

Malevich was influenced by his upbringing in rural Ukraine where he witnessed peasant life firsthand. He was drawn to conveying the dignity of the working class.

How large is the actual painting Taking in the Rye?

The dimensions of the work are 72 x 74.5 cm, making it a fairly small painting. Malevich often worked in small formats.

What makes Taking in the Rye significant within Malevich’s body of work?

It exemplifies his early modernist style and interest in abstraction. It also shows his lifelong connection to peasant themes, even as his work became non-representational.

Where can I view images of Taking in the Rye online?

The Stedelijk Museum collection website hosts images of the painting that can be viewed digitally by the public.


In summation, Kazimir Malevich’s 1912 painting Taking in the Rye marked a critical juncture between the representational art of his early peasant series and the abstraction of his later Suprematism. While still depictive, the work utilizes geometricized figures and simplified forms that point toward his interest in essential meanings over outward appearances. Taking in the Rye highlights Malevich’s aesthetic journey and gives insight into his underlying artistic philosophies. When viewed within the context of his body of work, it emerges as a significant composition that demonstrates Malevich’s emerging modernist style.

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