Peasant Woman with Buckets by Kazimir Malevich

This painting is dated at around 1912 and was a part of Kazimir Malevich’s First Peasant Cycle, which was a selection of artworks that drew attention to the lives of ordinary people with the artist’s native country.

Крестьянка с ведрами и ребенком, to give it its original Russian title, came during an important decade for the artist. He would go through several stylistic developments which culminated in his flat planes of colour that became known as Suprematism. This particular painting shown here is now a part of the collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in the Netherlands. It is listed at being around 73cm in both height and width which was roughly typical of the artist’s work throughout his career. Indeed, many of his most iconic artworks were produced on fairly small canvases, where a lack of detail made it unnecessary to deliver huge, sprawling canvases. Despite their lack of size, they would still deliver extraordinary impacts, as shown in the likes of Black Square, Black Circle and Black Cross. Peasant Woman with Buckets and a Child, by comparison, came around several years earlier and features far more detail and a very different artistic style.

The style of this work stands out immediately from the artist’s oeuvre. We are, essentially, in the realm of Primitivism here. One can immediately see elements of Paul Gauguin within this artwork, where African or Pacific cultures leave an influence on the direction of European art. Most obvious are the heads which are morphed and elongated, giving a somewhat sinister finish. This differs from his other ways of capturing local peasants. Their feet are also over-sized, as are their hands. Elongation of the human form was seen regularly in the work of Greek painter El Greco, who himself mainly worked within Spain. The mother here drags two buckets along as they hang from her shoulder. Her son walks alongside at a time when women would have to work and care for their children at the same time in the more rural areas of Russia.

The roots of this style may well have come from African sculpture, where many centuries ago there would be heads and long limbs within that art form. Europeans have incorporated ideas from other cultures for many centuries, with Africa and Asia perhaps leaving the biggest impact. Part of that would be through trade, which ensured that certain regions had great connectivity with Europe than others. In recent years there also been greater levels of immigration from places further afield which has also led to a greater exchange of ideas. We all remember how the likes of Van Gogh would collect Japanese prints, sometimes making copies in their own careers.

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