Peasants (1932) by Kazimir Malevich

Here we find another modern interpretation of the theme of peasant life in Russia. Malevich would re-visit this topic many times over and was actually from a fairly modest background himself. There was also a strong connection between those feeding the nation and the rest of the country during this period.

This portrait of peasants features three figures in total, each placed with an equal space between them. Their arms are removed, and their faces presented as single plains of colour. Abstract art would frequently depict faces in this way, where they would essentially lose their identity completely, possibly even disconnecting from humanity itself. There were many influences that led to such an approach, but perhaps the most obvious would be traditional African sculpture and masks, where facial features were a long way from reality and that style was many centuries old. We can see examples of that within Picasso’s African period and he himself would also work within the Cubist method, just as Malevich would do. There would be an exchange of ideas between East and West Europe, and Malevich himself would have been relieved to see some of his ideas also appearing elsewhere because of the limited nature with which he could express himself at times in Russia.

Крестьяне, to use its original Russian title, was produced in around 1932. This came towards the end of the artist’s life and he had already created a huge legacy by the time he entered the final decade of his life. He loved bright colours and would keep this consistent throughout most of his career, even when changing other stylistic elements. He was trained in Impressionist art which would probably have brought these positive tones to his attention and they would also suit his movement into modern art, be it Cubism or Suprematism. This particular painting is classed as Neo-Suprematism which essentially refers to how Malevich took his earlier achievements and developed them onwards once more, mainly by reducing his level of abstraction and making items identifiable again.

We can refer to Malevich as a source of historical record in how he covered the lives of the poor, which many other European artists refused to do. He never lost touch with his roots, even as he started to build an international following and the working classes would always play a major role within Russian society at that time. Its socialist values continued for some time and provided an alternative to what was happening on the opposing side of the continent. Today Malevich sits proudly in many of the nation’s best art galleries, underlining how time has been kind to him and the more open minded nature of today’s society has allowed his work to be viewed more favourably.

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