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Identifying marks on verso:

In Russian:
Министерство Kультуры СССР
k вывозу из СССР
13 уполн омоченному

Translation in English:
USSR Ministry of Culture
export from USSR
13 authorized representative

Translation in Dutch:
Ministerie van Cultuur van de USSR
uitvoer uit de USSR
13 gemachtigde

Lazar Markovich Lissitzky (1890-1947)

Painting, gouache on board

Soviet Union

Design period:
1919 to 1923

Production period:
1919 to 1923

Identifying marks:
Signed on recto, right corner below. Ministry of Culture of USSR stamp on verso.

Constructivism • avant-garde • suprematism • modernism

In very good, unrestored condition.

Gouache on board (2 mm)


Board W 28.0 x H 34.5 cm

Lazar Markovich Lissitzky (Russian: Ла́зарь Ма́ркович Лиси́цкий (23 November [O.S. 11 November] 1890 - 30 December 1941), known as El Lissitzky (Russian: Эль Лиси́цкий, Yiddish: על ליסיצקי), was a Russian artist, designer, photographer, typographer, polemicist and architect. He was an important figure of the Russian avant-garde, helping develop suprematism with his mentor, Kazimir Malevich, and designing numerous exhibition displays and propaganda works for the Soviet Union. His work greatly influenced the Bauhaus and constructivist movements, and he experimented with production techniques and stylistic devices that would go on to dominate 20th-century graphic design.

Lissitzky, of Lithuanian Jewish оrigin, began his career illustrating Yiddish children's books in an effort to promote Jewish culture in Russia. When only 15 he started teaching, a duty he would maintain for most of his life. Over the years, he taught in a variety of positions, schools, and artistic media, spreading and exchanging ideas. He took this ethic with him when he worked with Malevich in heading the suprematist art group UNOVIS*, when he developed a variant suprematist series of his own, Proun**.

*The name UNOVIS is an abbreviation in Russian of "Utverditeli Novogo Iskusstva" (in Russian: Утвердители НОВого ИСкусства) or "The Champions of the New Art". It was a short-lived but influential group of artists at the Vitebsk Art School (Belarus) from 1919 to 1923. The group was initiated by Marc Chagall (1887 Liozna, near Vitebsk - 1985 France). Kazimir Malevich (1879 Kiev, Ukraine - 1935, Leningrad, USSR) worked in a variety of styles, quickly assimilating the movements of Impressionism, Symbolism and Fauvism, and after visiting Paris in 1912, Cubism. Gradually simplifying his style, he developed an approach with key works consisting of pure geometric forms and their relationships to one another, set against minimal grounds. His Black Square (1915), a black square on white, represented the most radically abstract painting known to have been created so far and drew "an uncrossable line (…) between old art and new art"; Suprematist composition: White on White (1918), a barely differentiated off-white square superimposed on an off-white ground, would take his ideal of pure abstraction to its logical conclusion.

**His suprematist series of abstract, geometric paintings was called Proun (pronounced "pro-oon"). The exact meaning of "Proun" was never fully revealed, with some suggesting that it is a contraction of PROekt UNovisa (designed by UNOVIS) or PROekt Utverzhdenya Novogo (Russian: проект утверждения нового; 'Design for the confirmation of the new'). Later, Lissitzky defined them ambiguously as "the station where one changes from painting to architecture.

In development since 1915, suprematism rejected the imitation of natural shapes and focused more on the creation of distinct, geometric forms. Malevich replaced the classic teaching program with his own and disseminated his suprematist theories and techniques school-wide. Chagall advocated more classical ideals and Lissitzky, still loyal to Chagall, became torn between two opposing artistic paths. Lissitzky ultimately favoured Malevich's suprematism and broke away from traditional Jewish art. Chagall left the school shortly thereafter and moved to Paris.

El Lissitzky moved to Berlin in 1921, when he took up a job as the Russian cultural ambassador to Weimar Germany, working with and influencing important figures of the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements during his stay. In Berlin he met and befriended many other artists, like Kurt Schwitters, László Moholy-Nagy and Theo van Doesburg. From 1923 onwards, his suprematist 2D work became more 3D, resulting in architectural designs for skyscrapers. In 1923, he was taken ill with acute pneumonia and tuberculosis. In February 1924 he relocated to a Swiss sanatorium near Locarno. In 1925 he returned to Moscow and began teaching interior design, metalwork, and architecture at Vkhutemas (State Higher Artistic and Technical Workshops), a post he would keep until 1930.

In his remaining years he brought significant innovation and change to typography, exhibition design, photomontage, and book design, producing critically respected works and winning international acclaim for his exhibition design. This continued until his deathbed, where in 1941 he produced one of his last works – a Soviet propaganda poster rallying the people to construct more tanks for the fight against Nazi Germany. In 2014, the heirs of the artist, in collaboration with Van Abbemuseum and leading worldwide scholars on the subject, established the Lissitzky Foundation in order to preserve the artist's legacy and to prepare a catalogue raisonné of the artist's oeuvre.

Dutch connection and provenance
Already in 1915 Van Doesburg wrote: "Mondrian realizes the importance of line. The line has almost become a work of art in itself; one can not play with it when the representation of objects perceived was all-important. The white canvas is almost solemn. Each superfluous line, each wrongly placed line, any color placed without veneration or care, can spoil everything - that is, the spiritual". In 1917 Van Doesburg was the founder of De Stijl.

Based on the information above, the painting on sale may be dated between 1919 (his cooperation with Malevich in Vitebsk) and 1923 (when he visited The Netherlands). Since the USSR was established on 28 December 1922, the "approved for export" stamp indicates that it was not via Van Doesburg, but that El Lissitzky himself took the work with him when he visited Jacobus Oud in The Netherlands in 1923.

Since the early 1970s it is in the possession of the owners family, who's father worked in the 1960s and 1970s under Edy de Wilde, Jean Leering and Rudi Fuchs at the Van Abbemuseum (opened in 1936, based on the collection that Henri van Abbe started in 1909) and (art gallery) Galerie Pijnenborg in Eindhoven. Pijnenborg was active from 1930-1991 and had addresses at Koestraat 70 (1939), Sophia van Wurtenberglaan 38 (1941) and Keizersgracht 18 (1957-1991).

proun, 1919-1923
constructivism, avant-garde
suprematism, USSR
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€ 8.500,00