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 the famous “Black Square” painting, in honor of which UNESCO declared 2015 “The Year of Kazimir Malevich”. May 2015 marks 80 years since the artist’s death in 1935. The most influential Ukrainian expert on Malevich, art critic and professor Dmytrо Horbachev, made a lot of research which proves that Malevich is a Ukrainian artist. He wrote letters in Ukrainian, and Ukrainian folk motifs inspired him in his art.  This 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 in 1879. His father – Polish, director of sugar refineries; and his mother – Ukrainian housewife from Poltava. Both parents were from noble families. The surname Malevich is common in Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus.

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

Malevich was baptized in the Co-Cathedral of St. Alexander in Kyiv.

For 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 of Ukrainian folk art

Мотиви писанок у творчості Малевича

Pisanka style drawings by Malevich

Throughout his life, Kazimir Malevich strongly emphasized that his artistic vision of the world was formed by the Ukrainian village. This fact is confirmed by art historians who study the artist’s work even 80 years after his death.

Ukrainian peasant huts with paintings on white walls (many of which Malevich saw in Ukrainian villages) played a significant role in his Suprematism and other paintings. In Kharkiv, where the artist lived from the age of 12 to 15 years, he saw painted ovens and even observed the painting process.

“The village was engaged in art (this word I did not know that time). They made 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 plaster the floor of the house with clay and make patterns on the stoves. Beautifully depicted birds, horses and flowers. All paints were made on site with various clays and blue. I tried to reproduce 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 villages in Kyiv region were doing embroidery on pillows and scarves, shawls and tablecloths using Malevich’s sketches – and they were sold in Kyiv, Moscow and Berlin as examples of folk crafts. The catalogue of the exhibition of modern decorative art “Suprematism – peasant farm” (1915) indicated that Malevich made designs for scarves and pillows.

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

3. Ukrainian language

Автограф письма Малевича к И. Жданко и Л. Крамаренко


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

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

(Letter written on July 3, 1931 in Leningrad, where there 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.

During 1928 to 1930 Kazimir Malevich taught at the Kyiv Institute of Art, which at the time gained fame as a “Ukrainian Bauhaus”.  Among his professors were Olexandr Bogomazov, Victor Palmov, Lev Kramarenko and other stars of painting. In those same years a few dozen of Malevich’ articles about innovation in art were published in the Ukrainian press, in the journal New Generation (Kharkiv) and “Almanac-garde” (Kyiv).

Kazimir Severinovich taught at the Pedagogical Faculty of the Kyiv Institute of Art.  In his own words, he “treated” students of realism, psychological confusion of a difficult global culture of internal inhibition and insecurity, from “neurasthenia painting” and “kolorostrahu.” Analysing the works of students, Professor Malevich determined that artistic effect suppresses the will of each and which “additional element” of cultural experiences would help them find their own direction in art.

On March 18, 2015, a grand portrait of Malevich was presented at the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture (now called the Kyiv Institute of Art), joining 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 a good singer with a powerful bass voice. Everyone enjoyed music evenings when the bandura artist Volodymyr Tatlin appeared and played Ukrainian melodies while Malevich sang.

6. Holodomor (Famine in Ukraine)

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

Many of the “peasant” paintings by Malevich from the 1930s include the 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 who showed the tragic situation of the Ukrainian peasants during forced collectivization in the USSR” – wrote Jean-Claude Markade, French art historian, and 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 Kazimir 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 planning to move from Leningrad to Kyiv for permanent residence, but in the 1930s Stalin declared war against all highly-qualified professionals from different fields including art, calling them “bourgeois intellectuals”.

Kyiv Art Academy was “cleansed” of prominent professors and artists – Lev Kramarenko, Yevhen Sahaidachny, Fedir Krychevsky, Mykhailo Boychuk, and Kazimir Malevich.

In 1930 Malevich was arrested and tortured by Soviet OGPU in Leningrad. They sprayed water under pressure in his urethra – demanding that he confess to espionage. Prostate disease and other health issues killed Kazimir Malevich on May 15, 1935.

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 a Suprematist coffin in the shape of a cross. Over the grave was built a wooden cube monument depicting a black square.

8. Autobiography


In his own autobiographical notes Kazimir Malevich often sounds as a native Ukrainian. Some 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 crossing the 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 the landscape class at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. Day after day we walked together to sketch during summer, spring and winter. Arguing and talking all the time. Mentioning 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 grew up among Ukrainian people and the garlic market in Konotop.”

Information for this article was sourced from the anthology “Malevich and Ukraine” by Dmytro Horbachev (Kyiv, 2006) and from the monograph “Malevich” by Jean-Claude Markade (Kyiv, Rodovid, 2013).