Malevich and Ukraine

Special Project of the Library of Ukrainian Art





























Eight things associated Kazimir Malevich with Ukraine

This year is the 100th anniversary of famous “Black Square” painting in honor of which UNESCO declared 2015 The Year of Kazimir Malevich. In May 2015 is 80 years since artist’s death in 1935. The most influenced Ukrainian expert for Malevich, art critic and professor Dmitry Gorbachev made a lot of efforts to prove – Malevich is Ukrainian artist. He wrote letters on Ukrainian, Ukrainian folk motifs inspired him in his art. Special project by The Library of Ukrainian art tells what connects Malevich and Ukraine.

1. Born in Kyiv

Будинок на вулиці Бульонській (зараз – вулиця Казимира Малевича) в Києві, де народився художник

Former Bulonska street (now Kazimir Malevich street) in Kyiv where the artist was born

Kazimir Malevich was born in Kyiv 1879. His father – Polish, director of sugar refineries, his mother – Ukrainian from Poltava, housewife. Both parents were from noble families. Surname Malevich are common in Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus.

Kazimir was born in small house on the street Bulonska, later renamed to Bozhenko street. Now it is named Kazimir Malevich street, but the two-storey house №15 was destroyed in the middle of the last century; in its place was built the building of the Electric Institute of USSR.

Malevich was baptized in the church of St. Alexander in Kyiv.

By 17 years the future artist lived with his parents, mostly in villages and small towns, where his father worked in the refineries (in Yampil, Kharkiv, Parhomivka, Belopole, Chernihiv, Vovchok , Konotop etc).

2. Influence by Ukrainian folk art

Мотиви писанок у творчості Малевича

Pisanka style drawings by Malevich

All life Kazimir Malevich strongly emphasized that his artistic vision of the world formed the Ukrainian village. This fact is confirmed by art historians who study the artist’s work here already 80 years after his death.
Ukrainian peasant huts with painting on white walls (many of them Malevich saw in Ukrainian villages) played a significant role in his Suprematism and other pictures. In Kharkiv, where the artist lived since 12 to 15 years, he saw painted stove and even watched them paint.

“The village was engaged in the art (this word I did not know that times). They make things that I really liked. Here is the secret of my sympathy for the peasants. I watched their work with great excitement and helped them smeared with clay floor houses and make patterns on furnaces. Beautifully depicted birds, horses and flowers. All paints were made on site with various clays and blue. I tried to move this art on the stove at home, but failed. They said that I spoiled a lot of things. Fences, sheds and walls and so on. “

Folk masters from village in Kyiv region were doing embroidery on pillows and scarves, shawls and tablecloths using Malevich’s sketches- and sold them in Kyiv, Moscow and Berlin as examples of folk crafts. The catalog of the exhibition of modern decorative art “Suprematism – peasant farm” (1915) indicated that Malevich made design for scarves and pillows.

“The closest analogy to Suprematism – geometrical painting houses in Podolsk, eggs “pisanka” with Ukrainian patterns and magic code elements (fire, earth, water),” – says Dmitry Gorbachev.

3. Ukrainian language

Автограф письма Малевича к И. Жданко и Л. Крамаренко


Malevich often wrote letters in Ukrainian, and sometimes using fun mixture of Russian and Ukrainian languages. But we know that he knows Ukrainian very well. There is a quote from a letter to the Irina Zhdanko, wife of artist Lev Kramarenkowritten in 1930:

“In Kyiv there are plenty of food – cherries and other berries that grows on the streets. I wish I have Ukrainian vareniki (dumplings) with sour cream and berries with milk and sugar. “

(Letter written July 3, 1931 in Leningrad, where was hunger).

4. Professor at Kyiv’s Art Academy

18 березня 2015 року в Національній академії образотворчого мистецтва та архітектури відбулося урочисте встановлення портрету Малевича серед інших видатних викладачів. Фото: Леся Мазанік

Portrait of Kazimir Malevich was presented among the teachers and professors of National Art Academy in Kyiv on March 18, 2015. Photo by Lesia Mazanik.

From 1928 to 1930-by-year and Kazimir Malevich taught at the Kiev Art Institute, which at the time gained fame “Ukrainian Bauhaus” and among his professors were Bogomazov Alexander, Victor palm, Leo Kramarenko and other stars of painting. The same activity dates back to the years in the Ukrainian press Malevich – a few dozen of his articles about innovation in art was published in the journal New Generation (Kharkiv) and “Almanac-garde” (Kyiv).
In Kyiv Institute of Art Kazimir Severinovich taught at the Pedagogical Faculty, in his own words, “treated” students of realism, psychological confusion of a difficult global culture of internal inhibition and insecurity, from “neurasthenia painting” and “kolorostrahu.” Analyzing the works of students, Professor Malevich found out that artistic effect suppresses the will of each and which “additional element” cultural experiences will help them find their own direction in art.
March 18, 2015-a year in the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture (now called as Kyiv Institute of Art) the grand portrait Malevich making a series of portraits of other prominent teachers of this institution.

5. Songs

Дівчата у полі. К. Малевич (1932)

Girls in fields. 1932

According to friends and acquaintances, Kazimir Malevich was good singer with powerful bass voice. Everybody likes music evenings when the bandura artist Volodymyr Tatlin appeared and played Ukrainian melodies as Malevich sang.

6. Holodomor (Famine in Ukraine)

Kazimir Malevich is the only Ukrainian artists, whose works reflected the Holodomor of 1932-1933-years, during which were killed from 4 to 10 million Ukrainians. His pencil drawing known as “Where’s the hammer and sickle, there is death and famine” (quote from a popular in the years 1920-30 folk song), shows three figures which faces are replaced by the hammer and sickle, cross and coffin.

Many of the “peasant” paintings by Malevich from 1930th include same message. For example, people have no faces. In addition, almost all the paintings of this period are dated correctly.

“Malevich was the only artist that showed the tragic situation of the Ukrainian peasants during forced collectivization in USSR” – wrote Jean-Claude Markade, French art historian, author of several books about Malevich.

“Де серп і молот, там смерть та голод”

7. Death

Одне з останніх фото Малевича за життя – з третьою джружиною Наталією Манченко. 1935, Ленінград

One of the last photos with Kazamir Malevich  – with his third wife Natalia Manchenko. Leningrad, 1935.

Like many prominent figures of Ukrainian culture Kazimir Malevich was a victim of Stalinism. The artist was going to move from Leningrad to Kyiv for permanent residence, but in 1930th Stalin declared war against all highly qualified professional from different flields including art, calling them “bourgeois intellectuals”.

Kyiv Art Academy was “cleaned” from prominent professors and artists – Lev Kramarenko, Eugene Sagaidachny Theodore Krichevsky, Michael Boychuk, and Kazimir Malevich.

1930 Malevich was arrested and tortured by Soviet OGPU in Leningrad. They put water under pressure to his diuretic channel – demanding the confession in espionage. Prostate disease and other health issues killed Kazimir Malevich May 15, 1935-a year.

Friends remembered that he wanted to be buried with outstretched arms – in the form of a cross. And so it happened – Kazimir Malevich was cremated in Moscow in Suprematism coffin in the shape of a cross. Over the grave was build wooden cube monument depicting black square.

8. Autobiography


In his own autobiographical notes Kazimir Malevich often sounds as native Ukrainian. Somefew quotes from his notes:

“… I feel more and more like returning to Kyiv. Original and unique Kyiv is vivid in my memories. Buildings from colored bricks, mountainous terrain, the Dnipro river, boats… City life influenced me. Farmers crosses Dnipro,bringing butter, milk, cream and filling the streets of Kyiv, giving the city a special color. “


“… It was Leo Kvachevskyy. He was a student of landscape class at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. Day after day we walked with him to sketch during summer, spring and winter. Arguing and talking all the time. Mentioned Ukraine. He like me was Ukrainian. “


“I used to live (aged 16 – in Konotop. Oh, the glorious city of Konotop! It was all shining from the famous Ukrainian salo (pig fat). […] I was grown up among Ukrainian people and garlic market in Konotop. “

For the article was used information from anthology “Malevich and Ukraine” by Dmitry Gorbachev (Kyiv, 2006) and from monograph “Malevich” by Jean-Claude Markade (Kyiv, Rodovid, 2013).