The Italian poet Filippo Marinetti published the ‘Futurist Manifesto’ in February 1909, urging artists to reject the masterpieces of the past in favour of speed, technology and the cult of the machine. His rallying cry was eagerly taken up by Russian artists and poets but, rather than simply following Marinetti and his circle, they developed their own new forms that were often more radical than their western models.
A hybrid form of painting called cubo-futurism combined the dynamism and movement associated with the Italian futurists with the fractured perspectives of cubists such as Picasso and Braque. Malevich’s emphasis on Russian themes led him to apply this startling style to rural scenes or images of a peasant cutting wood rather than the machines praised by Marinetti. Similarly, he was as likely to deploy the bold colours of traditional Russian art as the muted tones favoured by the cubists in Paris.
Works such as Head of a Peasant Girl show Malevich’s willingness, even in 1912, to flout the boundary between abstraction and representation. The title challenges the viewer to find the trace of a recognisable image in a complex arrangement of planes. Having devotedly followed the innovations of Paris, Malevich was now finding the confidence to outpace them.