Calendar Services Feedback Site Map Help Home Digital Collection Children & Education Hermitage History Exhibitions Collection Highlights Information


Kasimir Malevich. Black Square
20 June, 2002 - 30 June, 2003

The Black Square of Kazimir Malevich is one of the most famous creations of Russian art in the last century. The first Black Square was painted in 1915 to become the turning point in the development of Russian avant-garde.
Black Square against white background became the symbol, the basic element in the system of the art of suprematism, the step into the new art. The artist himself created several variants of the Black Square. All four Squares painted by Malevich from 1915 to the early 1930s developed the same idea. Different are not only the sequence and year of creation, but also the color, design and texture. Malevich turned back to the Black Square every time he needed to present his work in an assertive and significant way, often in connection with the most important exhibitions. However he always created a new version rather than copied the previous one.
Malevich for the first time showed his Black Square (now at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow) at the Last Futurist Exhibition 0,10 in Petrograd in 1915. A Black Square put against the sun appeared for the first time in the 1913 scenery designs for the Futurist opera Victory over the Sun.
The second Black Square was painted about 1923 with Kazimir Malevich's participation by his closest disciples, Anna Leporskaya, Konstantin Rozhdestvensky and Nikolay Suyetin, for a triptych which also included Cross and Circle (now at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg). Being one of the elementary forms, the square as a part of the triptych was no longer unique. Since the triptych embodied the idea of collective work which was of great importance to Malevich, it is not as important by who exactly the idea was realized.
Some believe that the third Black Square (Tretyakov Gallery) was painted in 1929 for Malevich's one-man show, following request of Aleksey Fedorov-Davydov, Assistant Director of the Gallery, because of the poor condition of the 1915 Square. This is the ''blindest'', most ''hopeless'' square, thickly painted over black. It is as different from the first one, as Malevich's life and work were different compared to 1915.
One more Black Square, smallest and, probably, latest, touches upon the motif of red and black which was important to Malevich. It may have been intended to make a diptych with the Red Square, though of smaller size, probably for the exhibition Artists of the RSFSR: 15 Years, held in Leningrad in 1932 which was to become the last important venue in the history of Russian avant-garde. The two Squares, Black and Red, were the centerpiece of Malevich's exhibition in the show. This Black Square may have been a recapitulation when the artist worn by struggle and infirmity reproduced his Victory over the Sun at a new stage. The last Square, despite the author's note ''1913'' on the reverse, is believed to have been created in the late twenties or early thirties, for there are no earlier mentions of it. It was one of the few of Malevich's paintings which were not handed over by the artist's heirs to the Russian Museum but were kept by his family. As legend goes, it was carried behind Malevich's coffin on the day when he was buried. When the artist's widow Natalya Andreyevna Manchenko died, the last variant of the Black Square along with Malevich's Self-portrait and Wife's Portrait passed to her relatives who later sold them to Incombank.
After the 1998 crisis this collection except the Black Square was offered for sale. The Culture Ministry of the Russian Federation used its privilege to buy this precious work of art with the financial assistance of Vladimir Potanin, President of Interros Holding, and hand it over to the State Hermitage Museum.

Black Square
Kazimir Malevich
Larger view


Copyright © 2011 State Hermitage Museum
All rights reserved. Image Usage Policy.
About the Site