Head of a Peasant is an oil on plywood painting by Kazimir Malevich that was done in 1929. It’s part of a series of paintings that depict the lives of peasants. Malevich used farmers as the basis for his various subjects in the series. The painting is in the abstractionism style of art. Malevich drew influence from Russian icon painting for this peasant piece and others. To quote the artist himself, ‘I came to understand peasants through icons.’ He said he saw their faces as ordinary people, not as saints.
He doesn’t have a mouth, though, which represents how peasants lacked a voice in that period. Malevich’s peasant looks bitter, sad and even desperate. His eyes, which are large and clear, show a sorrow that is typical of Russian icons. The hair parts in the middle with one side painted yellow and the other red. His nose is only on the left side of the face, which adds to the indifference on the peasant’s face. Behind the main subject are other peasants who appear to be working in the fields. Some of the farmers look tired from toiling.
Head of a Peasant is a simple abstract piece that tells the emotional state of peasants in 1900s Russia. Malevich displays the anguish of the peasant in clean lines and bright colours that offer an excellent contrast of the different elements in the piece.
Beyond the lush land lies a community supposedly where they live. In the sky above, three aeroplanes are flying by, which is a sharp contrast to the scenes going on below. The farmers at work are painted in the same colour combinations as the peasant, giving the painting symmetry.
Malevich credited icon painting for his better understanding of the emotional art of the peasants about whom he was painting. Incorporating different styles simultaneously was something that different Russian artists were doing at the time. It was a form of protest against what the West considered linear progress. Even though Head of a Peasant has a hint of Russian icon painting, abstractionism is what defines this piece. As with most of his works, Malevich chose to step away from the norm.