Tatlin Playing The Bandura

Special Project of the Library of Ukrainian Art

Three episodes about life of Volodymyr Tatlin – founder of constructivism

Utopian in art, Volodymyr Tatlin (1885-1953) – one of the artists who can be considered both Russian and Ukrainian. He was born in Moscow, but as a child lived in Kharkiv; then – in Moscow again, in Odessa and Kyiv. Tatlin is one of the biggest representatives of Russian avant-garde. His life covered with legends. Tatlin wanted “make art of machine but not mechanize art.”

“Nature builds better than humans. It creates a wise and solid design.”.

Volodymyr Tatlin

Volodymyr Tatlin – in the center (holding pipe). Behind him – Ivan Kluch, right – Kazimir Malevich and his second wife Sofia Rafalovych.


Tatlin – the second right. In the center – Anatoliy Lunacharsky, Russian Marxist revolutionary and the first Soviet People’s Commissar of Education responsible for culture and education. Among others – Rector of the Art Institute I. Vrona (second left) and professors of Kyiv Art Institute A. Taran, S. Kolos, A. Sereda (3rd, 4th, 6th right).

Kyiv Museum of Western Art, 1926.



Volodymyr Tatlin’s most famous project is Tower of the Third International which was awarded with gold medal in Paris. Western artists began to imitate Tatlin’s technique using new construction materials, new shapes and design. It was planned to build the tower in Petrograd-Leningrad as the headquarters and monument of Comintern. Tatlin designed it in 1919.

Tower height was 400 meters, the construction combined two sloping metal spirals arranged one above the other in different harmoniously interconnected geometric shapes. Seven floors building had to rotate around its axis. The tower top was equiped with special system to project mottos into the clouds.
The building of steel and glass was conceived as a symbol of the reunification of mankind in contrast to the Tower of Babel which separated people. Tower of Tatlin was a bridge between heaven and earth, the architectural embodiment of world and universe.

“I tried to create a monument – symbol of the era – it combines artistic and utilitarian forms, – said Tatlin. – I put in the basis of the structure a screw – the most dynamic form. Screw is a symbol of the times – energy, rhythm and aspirations. Spiral metal shapes created three offices for legislature intitutes in the form of a cube, pyramid and cylinder. Double glass walls (like a thermos, saving energy) was designed to keep warm. I have copied design from trees – floors are attached to the main axis like tree branches.”

Tower of Third International was shown at the VIII Congress of Soviets in 1920 – it was first demonstration of project. Then the Tower project participated in various international exhibitions; its picture appeared in world press. Because of lack of resources and interest lost in Soviet government the tower was never built. You can see model of Tatlin Tower in Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, in Centre Pompidou in Paris, in Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm and others museums.

“Design of Tatlin’s Tower of Third International symbolizes the desire of infinity – wrote Bruce Chatwin, British essayist. – The spiral form (which obviously has an Islamic origin) combines the idea of cyclical renewal and unbridled upward movement.”

Construction of Tatlin’s Tower of the Third International.

It was planned to build Tatlin Tower near the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Leningrad.

Reconstruction of Tatlin’s Tower of the Third International at Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm: then and now.



Volodymyr Tatlin came to Kyiv in the 1925 during most productive years in his art and life. “One-sided glory” (as he said himself) about the artist was spreading all over Europe. In Ukrainian capital he worked as a professor at Kyiv Art Institute (teaching classes for theater, cinema and photography) in 1925-1927. He lived on Dykiy Lane, 5 (now it is Vasyl Donchuk street).

In Kiev Tatlin first began drafting his air bike-machine which was called “Litatlin” (combination of artist’s surname and Russian word “to fly”). He did it from willow trees that grew on the banks of Dnipro river. The artist was very well known with wood. “I love it in all forms. Love its aesthetics and shapes. The trees have huge energy and warmth inside,” – said Tatlin. Every detail of his bike was created like art masterpiece – similar to Hutsul folk craftsmen who carved and decorate wood. Tatlin admired their wood works.

When asked what led him to create flight machine he said: “Perhaps my orphanage. I thought of my mother a lot: she died when I was small kid. Warmth of her hands I carried inside through the years. But I could not remember her face, just imaging it. Sometimes at the sky, among floating clouds, I suddenly could see it for a moment. That’s why I think about flying.”

Exhibition “Litatlin” in Kiev attracted huge attention of the general public. Through whole room hung a poster “Art – in technology”. After exhibition was over people lost their interest in flying machine.

Letatlin machine design.



Volodymyr Tatlin dreamed about trip to Europe – it was before war. He agreed to the proposal of a Russian princess to participate in organized by her exhibition of folk art in Berlin – as the blind Ukrainian singer – bandurist. Tatlin made costume by himself and since 1906 traveled to Europe several times. The artist played the bandura, he had a nice loud voice and knew old Ukrainian folk songs.

“It was scary and uncomfortable, but I think, with my eyes closed I can bear it. Everything was great. I had huge success. Visitor were touching my and my Ukrainian embroidered shirt,” – he said later.

One evening Tatlin-bandurist was in the company of Kaiser Wilhelm, and then joked on his friends: “You do not appreciate how I sing, but William liked it mu-u-u-ch”.

During the voyage to Paris as blind singer Volodymyr Tatlin once got into studio of Pablo Picasso – he sang Ukrainian “Duma” song. “…Tatlin played on music instrument perfectly and even sang by himself, – remembered later Picasso. – Once Tatlin even wanted to live in my studio.”

“Tatlin played on music instrument perfectly and even sang by himself.”

The building on Vasyl Donchuk street in Kyiv where Volodymyr Tatlin lived. Kyiv, 2016.