Peasants (1930) by Kazimir Malevich

Peasants would feature many times within the career of Kazimir Malevich, with this version being completed in 1930. He was in the last years of his life by this point but was still working productively right up until his eventual passing.

Here in front of us we find two peasants standing right in front of the viewer, with an abstract form of landscape making its way across the background. The two faces are blank and anonymous and this was how Malevich worked during this period. It left a somewhat eery atmosphere, with human-like figures minus any expressions, somewhat akin to a robot. Their clothing is brightly coloured in single tones of yellow and orange, whilst their heads are filled with a heavy gradient which transitions from white to black in a curved shape. This creates shape to otherwise flat plains of colour and forms the idea of a curved head. The landscape is filled with unnatural stripes of solid, bright colour which is his modern interpretation of a traditional Russian setting. In the far distance we find a bright blue sky with green regions in the lower part of the sky, just where it meets the land below. Malevich chose peasants for his work many times over and had a connection to them because his own start in life was also far from easy.

The style found here is classed as Neo-Suprematism, which was essentially Malevich’s adapted version of his earlier use of flat shapes and lines. He came under pressure to adapt his style from ruling powers who found it to be too modern and too disconnected from reality. He therefore delivered scenes of peasant life within a slightly less abstract world where elements could still be seen and identified and this tended to be enough to keep him out of any more trouble. Any infringements on his artistic freedoms would not have been appreciated, though, and it is very sad that someone so creative and influential would be treated in this way towards the end of their career. It is fair to say, though, that he is not the only European artist to have experienced such treatment, with both extreme sides of the political arena having a tendancy to dictate their values to free-thinking artists.

The original Russian title of this painting was Два крестьянина на фоне полей, and despite his problems Malevich would never lose his love of his home nation. He did, however, find it a little easier to promote his work elsewhere and would hold several exhibitions abroad as a means to spreading his ideas about modern art as well as potentially generating funds from artwork sales. He proved particularly successful within Germany and was actually in two minds as to whether to return to Russia at all, where he realised that his creative freedom was slowly being eroded. Ultimately, many of his paintings would be mocked, some even seized and destroyed but he always remained positive that his legacy would flourish in Europe, even if not in his homeland.

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