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Suprematist composition

Painting, 1916, 88.5×71 cm

Description of the artwork «Suprematist composition»

"Suprematist composition (the blue rectangle over the red beam)" is a painting of astonishing destiny. In a magical way it slipped through the Soviet iron curtain, it narrowly escaped the Nazi auto-da-fe, went across the ocean, suffered a bloody litigation and, finally, appeared at Sotheby's, becoming one of the most expensive work in the history of Russian art. It is surprising that Steven Spielberg has not made the film about its ordeal yet.

In 1927, Kazimir Malevich visited Germany, he was given a separate room at the annual Great Berlin art exhibition. Malevich selected works for the exhibition very carefully as it was his chance to introduce his works to the western public, and all the omens pointed that it was the last chance.

Kazimir Severinovich was short of money, as usually. He even addressed the Glavnauka with a proposal to let him go to Europe on foot: in the letter Malevich is described that he would leave home on May 15, walk to Warsaw, then to Berlin, and by November 1 he would finally reach Paris. Disarmed by the absurdity of this request (and, of course, the prospect of its international publicity), the Soviet bureaucracy still gave him the money for the trip.

He brought about a hundred of works to Berlin. The success was absolute: the Germans published Malevich`s book, they hung on his every word, looked at him as a prophet, or at least like a celebrity with a world name. Kazimir Severinovich enjoyed the glory lavished on him. However, the idyll was somewhat poisoned by the dissonance: the Germans simply could not imagine that he, a living genius, may be short of money. Malevich exulted, when he managed to get 2000 rubles for the painting "The morning after a Blizzard in the village" in Germany. If he could know that in 80 years one of his paintings from the Berlin exhibition would go under the hammer for 60 million dollars...

When Malevich was urgently called by a telegram back to Leningrad, he left the paintings to the architect Hugo Haring, hoping to return and make a new exhibition someday. Of course, Malevich was not allowed to visit Berlin anymore. In 1935, he died at his home almost in disgrace and poverty.

Haring was afraid to hold Malevich`s paintings at his place. Shortly after the artist's departure, he handed them over to the Director of the Museum of Hannover Alexander Dorner. It is difficult to blame Dorner in excessive delicacy: he sold several paintings to the curator of the New York Museum of modern art (MOMA) Alfred Barr, another part was given to the exhibition. Dorner was desperately trying to escape from Nazi Germany across the ocean, and a collaboration with MoMA became a decisive argument for granting him American visa. Quite possibly, Malevich`s paintings saved Dorner's life.

From this point the story becomes quite suspenseful.

Barr had to take the paintings out of Germany putting them in the umbrella. It is unknown what would have happened to an American, if the customs officer had found such vivid examples of Jewish-Bolshevik "degenerative art". But there is no doubt that the Suprematist paintings by Malevich, with today's status as the undisputed masterpieces, then would have been destroyed right there.

Before leaving for the United States, Alexander Dorner gave the remaining works back to Hugo Haring, whowas kkeping them at home, regardless of the risk.

After Haring`s death in 1958 Malevich's paintings were sold to the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum. For some time, the paintings were laid to rest. But in 2003, descendants of Malevich claimed their rights to the collection of Malevich`s works in Stedelijke (by the way, one of the largest). Litigation with museums by the time had been going on for already about 10 years, but the Dutch laws protected Amsterdam city museum. In 2003 part of the collection was taken to exhibitions in the United States. It is here that the lawyers have managed to find ways to circumvent the statute of limitations.

After a 4-year trial, the parties came to an agreement: the Museum handed over to the heirs of Malevich five important paintings from its collection – one of them was Suprematist composition “The blue rectangle and the red beam”.

In 2008 the painting was sold at Sotheby's auction for $ 60 million. Irrevocable bid was made by an anonymous bidder even before the auction. Did the hammer hit the final point in this impressive Odyssey? You never know...

Author: Andrew Zimoglyadov
from 1450 rub
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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Style of art: Abstractionism

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1916

Size: 88.5×71 cm

Artwork in selections: 54 selections

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