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An icon of art turns 100: Kazimir Malevich's 'Black Square', Copyright: Rolf Haid/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Haid

An icon of art turns 100: Kazimir Malevich's 'Black Square'

December 7, 2015

The legendary painting marked the beginning of non-objective art: On December 7, 1915, Malevich's "Black Square" was exhibited for the first time. Recent discoveries add new layers to this iconic dark work.


The artwork, painted with oil on canvas, is 79 x 79 centimeters (31 x 31 inches) in size. It now hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and, for conservation reasons, it may not be removed from there.

In 1915, the "Black Square" could be seen for the first time in the futuristic exhibition "0.10" in the gallery Dobytcina in Petrograd, now St. Petersburg. "What I exhibited, was not an empty square, but rather the feeling of non-objectivity" - that’s how Malevich described his work.

In the exhibition catalogue, however, he did not use the word "square," but spoke of a "rectangle." Indeed, his strokes did not really shape a precise square. Nor are the sides positioned parallel to each other.

In the exhibition, the picture was hanging on a raised position in the room, thereby consciously assuming a spot traditionally reserved to icons, ie. religious representations of holy figures, in Russian homes.

In 1923, Malevich produced yet another painting of a "Black Square." It is exhibited in the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg.

Two images hidden under the 'Black Square'

In November 2015, it became known that not only one, as previously thought, but two color paintings were hiding under the "Black Square."

While examining the artwork, that second color painting was discovered under the layer of color of the first, the spokeswoman for the Moscow Tretyakov Gallery, Ekaterina Voronina, told the Russian TV channel "Kultura TV".

Scientists also deciphered an inscription thought to have been written by Malevich (1878-1935) on the "Black Square," which says: "Battle of Blacks in a dark cave." According to Voronina, that was a reference to the image "Combat de Nègres dans une cave pendant la nuit" by French artist Alphonse Allais (1854-1905).

"It is quite likely that Malevich painted the "Black Square" on top of not only one, but of two previous paintings," said the President of the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, Irina Antonova, to the Russian agency Ria Novosti on November 13. The "Black Square" was a manifesto rather than a painting. "That’s why everything connected with it appears as a dark secret," added the 93-year-old art expert.

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