El Lissitzky b. 1890, Pochinok, Russia; d. 1941, Moscow
Oil on canvas
31 5/16 x 19 1/2 inches (79.6 x 49.6 cm)
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 1976
2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
This painting reveals the principles of Suprematism that El Lissitzky absorbed under the influence of Kazimir Malevich in 1919–20. Trained as an engineer and possessing a more pragmatic temperament than that of his mentor, Lissitzky soon became one of the leading exponents of Constructivism. In the 1920s, while living in Germany, he became an important influence on both the Dutch De Stijl group and the artists of the German Bauhaus.
Like Malevich, Lissitzky believed in a new art that rejected traditional pictorial structure, centralized compositional organization, mimesis, and perspectival consistency. In this work the ladder of vividly colored forms seems to be floating through indeterminate space. Spatial relationships are complicated by the veil of white color that divides these forms from the major gray diagonal. The linkage of elements is not attributable to a mysterious magnetic pull, as in Malevich’s untitled painting of ca. 1916, but is indicated in a literal way by the device of a connecting threadlike line. The winding line changes color as it passes through the various rectangles that may serve as metaphors for different cosmic planes.