NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers will be exhibiting the oil painting Two Peasant Women (1928-30) by Kazimir Malevich, a loan from the Moscow-based cultural project Encyclopedia of the Russian Avant-Garde, through May 17.
The painting will welcome visitors at the entrance of the museum’s George Riabov Gallery, which features Russian art created from the 14th century to the early 1950s.
“We are really honored by this opportunity to supplement the broad Russian art collection of the Zimmerli Art Museum with works of some of the most significant artists of the Russian Avant-Garde,” said Irina Pravkina, founder of the Encyclopedia of the Russian Avant-Garde. “The unflagging international interest to this period in Russian art could be explained by the uniqueness of avant-garde artists and by their huge influence on the development of world art.”
“We are extremely grateful to the Encyclopedia of Russian Art for the opportunity to display this late Malevich painting in our galleries,” said Zimmerli director Thomas Sokolowski. “Even given the richness of our Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union, combined with and the Riabov Collection and Claude and Nina Gruen Collection of Contemporary Russian Art, this addition enables our visitors the chance to see a major master of early 20th-century modernism in Russia.”
Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935) is one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. As a painter, graphic artist, and designer – not to mention, initiator of uncommon architectural ideas – he worked in almost all of the modernist trends and styles that arose at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries: from impressionism and fauvism to cubism and futurism. In 1915, he introduced his own painterly style, which he called Suprematism. This new abstract approach emphasized the supremacy of color and shape in painting. The emblem of Suprematism, Malevich’s painting Black Square, became one of the most recognizable works in the art world.
Two Peasant Women, which belongs to Malevich’s second peasant cycle during the late 1920s, synthesizes several features of his pioneering avant-garde activities, as well as an appreciation of the principles of icon painting. Thematically, the painting draws heavily from his first peasant cycle of the early 1910s, when the young artist explored themes of rural life with scenes of peasants working or resting. Although the two figures – one wears an orange top and black skirt, the other a white shirt and brown skirt – do not have discernible facial features, their body language suggests that they are conversing while casually walking in a field.
It is believed that the subtext of Two Peasant Women, and of other works from Malevich’s second peasant cycle, addresses the fate of the rural inhabitants of Soviet Russia following the 1917 Russian Revolution. In particular, after Joseph Stalin assumed control of the Communist Party in 1924, rural workers were excluded from his programs that favored the industrialization of the USSR. Malevich’s writings from this period glorified non-urban workers as the most important representatives of humanity, asserting that their role in the natural world deserved to be revered.
The Encyclopedia of Russian Avant-Garde aims to popularize the legacy of multiple art movements that spanned the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Russia, as well as the early years of the Soviet Union. Initially a publishing house, it evolved into a cultural project that carries out exhibitions and educational programs in partnership with domestic and international art institutions, such as the Tretyakovskaya Gallery, Russian State Museum, Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, Centre Pompidou, Foundation Louis Vuitton, State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, and others.
Although the Zimmerli has received extensive international attention for its Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union – with more than 20,000 works by more than 1,000 artists from Russia and the Soviet Republics, created from about 1956 to 1986 – the museum also houses the George Riabov Collection of Russian Art. This diverse collection includes: Russian Orthodox icons; 18th- and 19th-century portraits in academic traditions; sculptures and paintings in an array of artistic movements from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries; maps that document historical changes of national and internal borders; 19th-century lubki, the popular folk prints of Russia that reflect moral, religious, literary, and other social concerns; stage set and costume designs for theater, opera, and ballet; propaganda posters and broadsides from the pre- to post-revolutionary periods; posters for movies and the theater; major works by avant-garde masters from the 1920s and 1930s; and decorative art objects from the early Soviet era.
The Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. It is one of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation.