The White Cross is part of the collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. That institution host a number of artworks from Malevich’s career, making it one of the best public art galleries from which to learn more about this famous Russian painter.
Белый крест, to use its original Russian title, is simplicity itself. Malevich would move further and further into the world of abstraction as his career progressed and eventually would limit himself to arrangements of squares, rectangles and circles. His palette would also be limited down to just a few colours per artwork, although some years later he would move on from the Suprematist approach and find new ways of working once more. There is a religious atmosphere to this piece, where a white cross is delivered into the centre of the canvas, stretching to the outer reaches of a canvas which is just under a metre in height. The impact would be strong and immediate, though then leaving us with question marks around the potential symbolism or not of the painting in front of us. Although this painting is not one of his most famous, its style perfectly represents the style for which he is best remembered today.
More famous versions of this style, where true abstraction is used, include the likes of Black Square, Black Cross and Four Squares. These have become household names within modern art and many art followers will be able to immediately identify them as having come from this artist’s career, even though there is such a limited amount of visual information within them. These were groundbreaking in their simplicity and a number of other artists would follow suit elsewhere in Europe at about the same time. New visual languages were being created and a whole group of creatives were attempting to move on from what had gone before, just as the Impressionists had done half a century earlier. It was now time for something entirely fresh, though there would inevitably be some resistance to this, both within the art world but also from some traditionally-minded ruling powers.
Today we can appreciate the work of Malevich and try to put to the back of our minds the difficulties that he faced during his career. It is unfortunate that life was so tough for many at that time and he himself was not born into wealth, having to work hard to achieve everything that he did. Thankfully, his legacy was protected by some passionate followers, many of whom were actually based outside of Russia and so were more free to discuss the merits of his work. Today Malevich is loved by his own nation once more and takes pride of place in many of the country’s most prestigious art galleries and museums, reflecting perfectly about how tastes and behaviour can change over time. Russia itself has played an important role within European art, and this must remain in our minds when studying the history of this large nation.