Kazimir Malevich was born in 1879 in Kiev to Polish parents. He started painting as a teenager, studying art largely from reproductions. In 1904, in his mid-twenties, he travelled to Moscow for the first time. The city boasted two of the world’s finest collections of contemporary art, belonging to the merchants Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov. These enabled Malevich to study at first hand works by artists such as Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, one of whose greatest patrons at the time was Shchukin.
By seeing and absorbing successive stages of French modern art, Malevich compressed the developments of several decades into a few years. Influenced by Monet and Cézanne, he painted his own impressionist scenes, but also began to consider the work of art as an independent creation rather than a mere imitation of reality.
In 1907 Malevich saw an exhibition by the Blue Rose symbolist group, and responded with a series of paintings steeped in religious mysticism, such as Assumption of a Saint 1907–8 and Shroud of Christ 1908. The following year, the journal The Golden Fleece hosted an exhibition that brought works by Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse to Moscow. The expressive colour and brushwork of these artists emerged in paintings such as Malevich’s Self Portrait 1908–10.