Kasimir Malevich was born near Kiev in 1878 and lived and worked in Moscow, Vitebsk and St Petersburg. He was a leading figure of the twentieth-century avant-garde. In the early years of the 1910s, Malevich abandoned traditional representative images in favour of what he called Suprematism. These abstract paintings used severely reduced geometrical forms - most famously a black square on a white canvas. It was one of the key movements of modern art in Russia and was particularly closely associated with the Revolution of 1917. Looking back on this seminal development in his book The Non-Objective World, Malevich wrote:
In the year 1913, trying desperately to free art from the dead weight of the real world, I took refuge in the form of the square. … To the Suprematist the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling … the black square on the white field was the first form in which non-objective feeling came to be expressed; the square = feeling, the white field = the void beyond this feeling
The Black Square remained for Malevich a ground breaking statement of his new art of pure feeling, but its static quality did not satisfy him and in 1915-16 he moved rapidly to what he called dynamic Suprematism. Out of the Suprematist square as he called it, Malevich developed a whole range of forms including rectangles, triangles and circles often in intense and beautiful colours. He also moved towards creating greater energy in his paintings such as this one - the forms pulling and pushing within the composition. Improved communications meant that avant-garde artists working in Russia were extremely well-informed about activities in the West, and many of the artists in Moscow and St Petersburg who would go on to pioneer abstraction were strongly influenced by Futurism as well as Cubism. For Malevich, Cubo-Futurism was an intermediary state between static Cubism and the introduction of movement and dynamism. Moving to this more dynamic style, but away form representation, seems to attempt to express the Futurist utopian view of the modern city and modern technology in abstract forms.
… the art of Cubism and Suprematism is to be looked upon as the art of the industrial, taut environment … has been produced by the latest achievements of technology, and especially of aviation, so that one could also refer to Suprematism as aeronautical … The culture of Suprematism can manifest itself in two different ways, namely as dynamic Suprematism … or as static Suprematism …
Dynamic Suprematism suggests harmonies that are not related to representing the physical world - they are accessible through art but beyond human experience. It could be seen as Malevich evoking the forms and energy of the modern technological world. It is inscribed on the back Supremus No.57 Kazimir Malevich Moscow 1916, and other paintings with similar inscriptions are in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and the National Russian Museum in St Petersburg. It’s possible that the numbers refer to the first exhibition that showed these Suprematist works: 0.10 (Zero-Ten), which took place in St Petersburg from December 1915 to January 1916. However the date inscription of 1916 conflicts with the exhibition dates, and it has not been identified in any photographs of parts of the exhibition. After the death of Lenin in 1924, Josef Stalin rose to power in Russia, and the avant-garde fell out of favour. Stalin imposed a doctrine of Socialist Realism upon the arts, which in painting meant using realist styles to create rigorously optimistic pictures of Soviet life. In 1927 Malevich travelled to exhibit his works in Warsaw and Berlin, where he met artists such as Naum Gabo and Kurt Schwitters as well as architect Le Corbusier, and visited the Bauhaus. Because of his connections with German artists, he was arrested in 1930 and many of his manuscripts were destroyed. In his final period, before his death in 1935, he painted in a representational style.