On the evening of May 6th Sotheby’s will offer for sale, on behalf of the heirs of Kazimir Malevich, his Suprematist Painting, Rectangle and Circle from 1915. This painting was taken out of Nazi Germany in 1938 to ensure its safety and was brought to the United States by a museum curator. It was subsequently entrusted to the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard University prior to its return to Malevich’s heirs in 1999. Estimated to sell for $5/7 million, this painting will be sold in Sotheby’s May 2003 Part I sale of Impressionist and Modern art.

Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist paintings are among the most compelling works of 20th century art. Composed of geometric shapes and a limited range of colors, these pictures exalt the beauty of pure form and color. One of the artist’s earliest explorations of this style of painting is Suprematist Painting, Rectangle and Circle, which Malevich completed in 1915 in the midst of writing his “Suprematist Manifesto.” This work is one of his best known compositions, as it was featured in one of the first important exhibitions of the artist’s work at 16th State Exhibition in Moscow in 1919-20 and also in a retrospective of Malevich’s work in Berlin in 1927. From 1957 to 1999, this work was entrusted to Harvard University’s Busch-Reisinger Museum. With its sharply defined black and blue forms set against a field of white, Malevich considered this composition to be the pinnacle of artistic expression and “the creation of intuitive reason.” As one of Malevich’s premiere Suprematist creations, Suprematist Painting, Rectangle and Circle demonstrates the liberation of form and the celebration of the abstract in an extreme manner that was unmatched by avant-garde artists of the day.

Unlike the Russian artists Soutine and Chagall who left their native country in search of artistic inspiration in France, Malevich remained in Russia during the critical period of transformation and revolution and was a key figure in the revival of Russian art and culture during this period. Born in the Ukraine in 1878, the artist enrolled in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1905 and remained in that city throughout the 1910s. His early paintings from 1910-13 were not without reference to the French avant-garde, and incorporated a variation of the Cubist aesthetic made popular by Picasso and Braque. But as his painting developed, Malevich began reinterpreting the styles of Cubism, as well as Italian Futurism, and devised an artistic philosophy that was decidedly his own. Suprematism revered the beauty of speed that had been championed by Futurism and Cubism’s fragmenting of objects. In contrast to these two movements, Suprematism rejected the idea of objective representation and eliminated any references to nature.

At the time of Malevich’s death in 1935, Suprematist Painting, Rectangle and Circle was at the Provinzialmuseum (later renamed the Landesmuseum) in Hanover, Germany. Around this time, the National Socialists began censoring avant-garde works of art believed to be “degenerate,” and the present painting was at risk of seizure by the German government. The museum’s director, Alexander Dorner, who was an avid supporter of the Russian avant-garde, was entrusted to save this work and took it with him to the United States in 1938 for safe keeping. At the time of Dorner’s death in 1957, the picture was left to the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard University with the stipulation that it was to be on “extended loan and to be indicated as such by the museum.” The painting was returned to the Malevich family in 1999.


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