MovementsArtistsTimelinesIdeasBlog

El Lissitzky

Russian Painter, Typographer, and Designer

Movement: Suprematism

Born: November 23, 1890 - Pochinok, Russian Empire

Died: December 30, 1941 - Moscow, Soviet Union

Important Art by El Lissitzky

The below artworks are the most important by El Lissitzky - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.


Had Gadya (1919)

Artwork description & Analysis: "Had Gadya" is a song that is sung by Jewish families on the first evening of Passover. It tells the tale of a billy goat (representing the Jewish people) who is attacked by a cat, which is in turn attacked by a dog. These animals represent the oppressors of Jews throughout history. Lissitzky originally created gouache paintings of the ten animals, Had Gadya is a painting in a fluid manner, reminiscent of the style of Marc Chagall. This 1919 version, created for a children's book, features quaint, naturalistic animals contained within curvilinear compartments that overlap. These geometric elements - harbingers in a sense - speak not to the overt simplicity of Lissitzky's later style, but they also create a sense of movement within the composition.

Lithograph - Private collection


Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1919)

Artwork description & Analysis: Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge is one of Lissitzky's earliest attempts at propagandistic art. He produced this politically charged work in support of the Red Army shortly after the Bolsheviks had waged their revolution in 1917. The red wedge symbolized the revolutionaries, who were penetrating the anti-Communist White Army. Here Lissitzky uses his signature coded color combination of red, white and black, which reinforces the message indicated by the work's title. Colors and shapes take on directly symbolic significance. For example, the smooth, curvilinear walls of the white circle are pierced by the sharp point of the red triangle: the Red Army has pierced the defenses of the White Army. Dramatic color contrasts also create confusion regarding space-which area is positive? Which is negative? Meanwhile, small geometric forms in the limited color scheme float like tiny projectiles through the space along with text. Here, basic forms combine with actual text: painting and typography are fused. This work is an important precursor to Lissitzky's Prouns, when Suprematist art moved onto a three-dimensional visual plain.

Lithograph - Municipal Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands


Proun 99 (1925)

Artwork description & Analysis: Lissitzky's Prounen or Proun work, which spanned a variety of media from painting and illustration to physical installation, was the artist's effort to create three-dimensional environments in which two-dimensional shapes could exist in direct contrast to the space they inhabited. The end result for Lissitzky was ideally to create an ongoing tension between open, negative, three-dimensional space and flat, purely abstract, geometric forms. Painting and drawing, which had formerly existed independently of the three-dimensional media of sculpture and architecture, could now be fused to them to create new, integrated forms - ideally, the futuristic, Suprematist-style buildings Lissitzky envisioned.

Watercolor and metallic paint on wood - Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT


USSR, Russische Ausstellung (1929)

Artwork description & Analysis: This poster was created for a 1929 exhibition at the Kunstwerbemuseum or Museum of Decorative Arts in Zurich. Lissitzky's Constructivist art and his political beliefs had become virtually interchangeable at this point in his career. In this work, the two colossal busts of a man and a woman loom over the sprawling horizontal structure. These figures are fused to emphasize the equality of the sexes in the Communist idiom and they are the essence of the State. Lissitzky had long envisioned his countrymen rising to new heights, both physically and spiritually.

Photogravure in red and black - Museum fur Gestaltung Basel, Switzerland

From Our Sponsor. Article Continues Below

The Runner (1930)

Artwork description & Analysis: Lissitzky once wrote of photography, "...photography possesses properties not available to painting. These properties lie in the photographic material itself and it is essential for us to develop them in order to make photography truly into art." With The Runner, Lissitzky converted his 1926 gelatin silver print Runner in the City into a stunning new visual reference to the modern celebration of speed and dynamism by splicing the photo into equal, vertical sections. The segmented photo mimics the effect of perceiving objects in motion (the objects are moving and/or the viewer is also in motion): there is a sense of visual fragmentation as one glimpses the parts rather than the whole. Lissitzky's effort to make a form of media then considered trivial into high art was in fact another evolutionary step for the artist's own Constructivist style. The prevailing idea was to construct something grand and utterly new, and in this sense, the very notion of photography as a pure art form, or what the Soviets regarded as a "medium for enlightenment," was something truly avant-garde.

Photomontage - State Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow


The print shop of Ogoniok (commissioned 1932)

Artwork description & Analysis: For Lissitzky, architecture was an enduring passion. Ironically, in some regards his passion for architecture was also his greatest challenge to his own productivity. His utopian aspirations were often realized in Lissitzky's sketches and blueprints for buildings that would have been impossible to construct. In this renderings, towering monoliths seem to float weightlessly in mid-air, defying gravity and denying very real considerations (such as budget constraints). Not without a sense of the practical, Lissitzky modified his architectural visions. The print shop for the magazine Ogoniok in Moscow stands as Lissitzky's sole extant work of architecture. Unfortunately the actual building is far from what he imagined, containing virtually none of the horizontal skyscraper elements that became Lissitzky's signature design.

- Moscow, Russia



By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Related Art and Artists


Artwork Images

I and the Village (1911)

Artist: Marc Chagall

Artwork description & Analysis: This early work clearly shows both the Cubist and Fauvist influences at play in Chagall's canvas, yet unlike the works of Picasso or Matisse, Chagall is far more playful and liberal with decorative elements, creating a pastoral paradise out of the Russian countryside. It is an early sign of the approach that would make the artist famous and influential: a blend of the modern and the figurative, with a light, whimsical tone. Chagall depicts a fairy tale in which a cow dreams of a milk maid and a man and wife (one upright,one upside down) frolic in the work fields. Abstraction is at the heart of this work, but it exists to decorate the picture rather than invite analysis of the images.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York


Black Square (c. 1915)

Artist: Kazimir Malevich

Artwork description & Analysis: Now badly cracked, the iconic Black Square was shown by Malevich in the 0.10 exhibition in Petrograd in 1915. This piece epitomized the theoretical principles of Suprematism developed by Malevich in his 1915 essay From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting. Although earlier Malevich had been influenced by Cubism, he believed that the Cubists had not taken abstraction far enough. Thus, here the purely abstract shape of the black square (painted before the white background) is the single pictorial element in the composition. Even though the painting seems simple, there are such subtleties as brushstrokes, fingerprints, and colors visible underneath the cracked black layer of paint. If nothing else, one can distinguish the visual weight of the black square, the sense of an "image" against a background, and the tension around the edges of the square. But according to Malevich, the perception of such forms should always be free of logic and reason, for the absolute truth can only be realized through pure feeling. For the artist, the square represented feelings, and the white, nothingness. Additionally, Malevich saw the black square as a kind of godlike presence, an icon - or even the godlike quality in himself. In fact, Black Square was to become the new holy image for non-representational art. Even at the exhibition it was hung in the corner where an Orthodox icon would traditionally be placed in the Russian home.

Oil on canvas - Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


Artwork Images

The Staircase (1930)

Artist: Alexander Rodchenko

Artwork description & Analysis: This is one of Rodchenko's finest photographs. Often credited with devising the key principles of modern photography, Rodchenko is praised for his use of unusual angles and perspective. Here, he juxtaposes the motif of a woman with a child against the stern geometry of the man-made environment. The position of the camera at a peculiar angle provides for an innovative, yet carefully balanced and flowing composition. Compositions such as this were an important influence on New Vision, the modernist photography movement that gripped Europe in the 1920s and '30s.

Gelatin-silver print - Private Collection

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
[Accessed ]

Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall was a Russian-born, Jewish-French artist that reached great popularity during the twentieth century. Although his art is associated with several movements, Chagall is commonly grouped in with the German Expressionists. Much of his early work was credited with synthesizing visual elements of Cubism, Symbolism and Fauvism.
TheArtStory: Marc Chagall
Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir Malevich was a Russian modernist painter and theorist who founded Suprematism. Along with his painting Black Square, his mature works feature simple geometric shapes on blank backgrounds.
TheArtStory: Kazimir Malevich
Alexander Rodchenko
Alexander Rodchenko
Alexander Rodchenko
Aleksander Rodchenko was a Russian artist, sculptor, photographer, and graphic designer. Concerned with the need for analytical-documentary photo series, he often shot his subjects from odd angles - usually high above or below - to shock the viewer and to postpone recognition. He was one of the founders of Constructivism and Russian design; he was married to the artist Varvara Stepanova.
TheArtStory: Alexander Rodchenko
Suprematism
Suprematism
Suprematism
Suprematism, the invention of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, was one of the earliest and most radical developments in abstract art. Inspired by a desire to experiment with the language of abstract form, and to isolate art's barest essentials, its artists produced austere abstractions that seemed almost mystical. It was an important influence on Constructivism.
TheArtStory: Suprematism
Yehuda Pen
Yehuda Pen
Yehuda Pen
Yehuda Pen was a Jewish-Belarusian artist and teacher, who in 1891 founded the Jewish Art School in his hometown of Vitebsk, the first private art school in the Russian Empire. Pen is best known for having instructed such modern masters as Chagall, Zadkine and Lissitzky.
Yehuda Pen
Yisakhar Rybak
Yisakhar Rybak
Yisakhar Rybak
Yisakhar Ber Rybak was a Russian-Jewish visual artist and theater designer who was active in the Jewish art renaissance, along with such artists as El Lissitzky and Marc Chagall. Rybak's visual style varied from Jewish folklore art to Cubist composition.
Yisakhar Rybak
Ossip Zadkine
Ossip Zadkine
Ossip Zadkine
Ossip Zadkine was a Russian painter and sculptor. After studying art in London, Zadkine moved to Paris in 1910 and became involved in the Cubism movement with the likes of Picasso and Braque.
Ossip Zadkine
Ilya Ehrenburg
Ilya Ehrenburg
Ilya Ehrenburg
Ilya Ehrenburg was a Soviet writer and journalist, and among the Soviet Union's most famous novelists, memoirists and poets, with such books as The Thaw and People, Years, Life. Throughout his life Ehrenburg also traveled in bohemian circles, acquainting himself with artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, Rivera and Lissitzky.
Ilya Ehrenburg
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau was a movement that swept through the decorative arts and architecture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Generating enthusiasts throughout Europe, it was aimed at modernizing design and escaping the eclectic historical styles that had previously been popular. It drew inspiration from both organic and geometric forms, evolving elegant designs that united flowing, natural forms with more angular contours.
TheArtStory: Art Nouveau
Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism is an artistic and literary movement that first emerged in France in the 1880s. In the visual arts it is often considered part of Post-Impressionism. It is characterized by an emphasis on the mystical, romantic and expressive, and often by the use of symbolic figures.
TheArtStory: Symbolism
Russian Futurism
Russian Futurism
Russian Futurism
After the Russian Revolution, collaborative groups of futurists formed in St. Petersburg and in Moscow, publishing journals, organizing debates, and curating exhibitions of their work. Artists such as Natalya Goncharova, Kasimir Malevich, and Vladimir Mayakovsky reject past approaches and looked to Russian icongraphy, French Cubism, and the avant-garde of Europe for new directions for art-making.
TheArtStory: Russian Futurism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
TheArtStory: Cubism
Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky
A member of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, and later a teacher at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky is best known for his pioneering breakthrough into expressive abstraction in 1913. His work prefigures that of the American Abstract Expressionists.
TheArtStory: Wassily Kandinsky
Hans Arp
Hans Arp
Hans Arp
Hans Arp (also known as Jean Arp) was a German-French artist who incorporated chance, randomness, and organic forms into his sculptures, paintings, and collages. He was involved with Zurich Dada, Surrealism, and the Abstraction-Creation movement.
TheArtStory: Hans Arp
Vladimir Tatlin
Vladimir Tatlin
Vladimir Tatlin
Vladimir Tatlin was a prominent Russian avant-garde artist and architect. He was one of the key figures of the Constructivist movement.
TheArtStory: Vladimir Tatlin
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian, a founding member of the De Stijl movement, was a modern Dutch artist who used grids, perpendicular lines, and the three primary colors in what he deemed Neo-plasticism.
TheArtStory: Piet Mondrian
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian painter, photographer and teacher at the Bauhaus School. Moholy-Nagy was influential in promoting the Bauhaus's multi- and mixed-media approaches to art, advocating for the integration of technological and industrial design elements.
TheArtStory: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg was a Dutch artist, who together with Piet Mondrian established the De Stijl movement. Van Doesburg's most famous work experimented with geometric abstraction and archetypal forms. He was also a prominent architect and writer.
TheArtStory: Theo van Doesburg
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters was a German artist who was particularly influential in the development of Dada movement and his own offshoot of Dada that he called Merz. Schwitters was heavily involved in the international avant-garde, with artists like El Lissitzky, Hans Arp, and Tristan Tzara.
TheArtStory: Kurt Schwitters
Constructivism
Constructivism
Constructivism
Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
TheArtStory: Constructivism
Bauhaus
Bauhaus
Bauhaus
Bauhaus is a style associated with the Bauhaus school, an extremely influential art and design school in Weimar Germany that emphasized functionality and efficiency of design. Its famous faculty - including Joseph Albers and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - generally rejected distinctions between the fine and applied arts, and encouraged major advances in industrial design.
TheArtStory: Bauhaus
De Stijl
De Stijl
De Stijl
Founded in the Netherlands in 1917, De Stijl was an avant-garde dedicated to isolating a single visual style that would be appropriate to all aspects of modern life, from art to design to architecture. Taking its name from a periodical, its most famous practitioners were Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, whose mature art employed geometric blocks of primary colors and vertical and horizontal lines.
TheArtStory: De Stijl