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The Avant-Gardists

Artists in Revolt in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union 1917–1935

Sjeng Scheijen


A fascinating narrative biography of the art movement that transformed the modern world, tracing the lives and activities of the key protagonists as they set about a revolution in art

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October 1917. The Russian Revolution wipes the old tsarist empire off the map. Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Lyubov Popova, Alexander Rodchenko, Olga Rozanova, Vladimir Tatlin and other avant-garde artists participate in the revolutionary struggle, transforming inner cities with their progressive murals, posters, installations and performances. The new political leaders soon want nothing to do with these radical artists. While their reputation is growing in Europe, they experience increasing pressure in the Soviet Union.

Against a background of violent social and political change, author Sjeng Scheijen describes with compassion and humour events that shaped the artistic revolution in this, the first illustrated biography to relate the rise and fall of the leading figures of the Russian avant-garde. From philosophical and political subversion, involvement with the Bolshevik administration and links with Europe, to violent repression, incarcerations and torture in the 1930s under Stalin, events are narrated through artists’ personal memories drawn from existing and important new archival findings. Excerpts from diaries and correspondence reveal the extent of the avant-garde’s energy and determination to survive a totalitarian regime, civil war, hunger and terror.

Scheijen’s vivid, dynamic style, authoritative command of his source material and extensive original research provides exceptional insight into the lives of these avant-gardists, whose art left a lasting legacy that transformed modern art.

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'Definitely the best overview of the Russian avant-garde ... based on thorough research, it reads like a detective story'
Natalia Murray (Courtauld Institute), curator ‘Revolution’ (2017, RA)

'Scheijen throws new light on the Russian avant-gardists, highlighting for instance how Kandinsky, Malevich and Chagall were, for a short period of time, high-ranking officials in the Bolshevik government. The author also references personal documents such as diaries along with government papers, drawn almost exclusively from Russian language sources'
The Art Newspaper

Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 504 pp

Illustrations: 128

Publication date: 16 May 2024

ISBN: 9780500024553

Contents List

Introduction: why we paint our faces!
1. Kazimir Malevich in the Kremlin/ 1917
2. Tatlin, the Pittoresque collective/ 1917-1918
3. A white revolution/ 1917-1918
4. Monumental propaganda! Or, the avant-gardist as bureaucrat/ 1917-1918
5. Tatlin’s tower/ 1919-1921
6. Many avant-gardists in the provinces/ 1919-1922
7. The last laboratory/ 1922-1925
8. Family ties/ 1925-1927
9. Tatlin’s bird/ 1927-1932
10. Farewell/ 1932 and beyond

About the Author

Sjeng Scheijen is an author and an internationally acclaimed expert on Russian art. He has curated several important exhibitions in London, Groeningen and elsewhere, and is the former cultural attaché to the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Moscow. His previous book, Diaghilev: A Life (2009) received much critical acclaim, being described as ‘masterful’ by the Guardian and ‘magnificent’ by the Daily Mail.