Room 11 Reinventing Figuration

By 1928 Stalin had consolidated his power, and initiated the first Five Year Plan to drive the still largely agrarian Russian economy through a process of accelerated industrialisation. The experiments of the avantgarde were now condemned as elitist, and Socialist Realism would soon be established as the sole authorised style of the Soviet Union. 

Around this time Malevich started to paint again. In 1929 he reconstructed a number of the paintings left in Berlin for a retrospective of his work at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. However, he was also producing new works, blending figuration and abstraction. These are complex and ambiguous paintings which apply the lessons learned from suprematism to surprising ends. The stylised semi-geometric figures, whose faces are composed of coloured planes or simply blank, are not unlike the characters in Victory over the Sun of some fifteen years earlier. 

Many of the paintings are rural scenes, and Malevich’s return to the theme of the countryside was particularly resonant during the era of grain requisitions, the persecution of the kulaks and the brutal process of collectivisation, which resulted in famine and starvation in the early 1930s. His inert figures against a pared-down landscape convey a sense of dislocation, alienation and despair. The peasant, long established as the embodiment of the Russian soul, is reduced to a faceless mannequin.