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Alexander Rodchenko

Russian Designer, Painter, Photographer, and Sculptor

Movement: Constructivism

Born: December 5, 1891 - St. Petersburg, Russia

Died: December 3, 1956 - Moscow, Russia

Alexander Rodchenko Timeline

Important Art by Alexander Rodchenko

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

Dance. An Objectless Composition (1915)
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Dance. An Objectless Composition (1915)

Artwork description & Analysis: Rodchenko attended a lecture by Russian Futurists Wassily Kamensky, David Burliuk, and Vladimir Mayakovsky, in Kazan in 1912, and was immediately converted. He abandoned the Art Nouveau styling of some of his earlier work and began to fragment his forms to create dynamic compositions. Dance is perhaps his most Futurist painting, and it clearly resembles works by Italian Futurists such as Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini. However, Rodchenko soon grew disinterested in the style and, following this, he began to create even more abstract pictures, putting aside entirely the last suggestions of illusion that Dance creates.

Oil on canvas - The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

Non-Objective Painting No 80 (Black on Black) (1918)
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Non-Objective Painting No 80 (Black on Black) (1918)

Artwork description & Analysis: Rodchenko was powerfully influenced by Kazimir Malevich's Suprematism, and particularly by works such as Black Square (1915), which reduced the components of the painting to a single black square that echoed the shape of the canvas. However, Rodchenko rejected the older man's spiritualism and strove instead to emphasize the material qualities of painting, in particular surface and texture (or "faktura" as the Russians called it). Non-Objective Painting No 80 is typical of this phase in his career and is part of a series of similar "Black on Black" paintings, which were exhibited alongside five white paintings by Malevich in Moscow in 1919. The exhibition was important in catapulting Rodchenko into the forefront of Russia's avant-garde.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Construction No. 127 (Two Circles) (1920)
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Construction No. 127 (Two Circles) (1920)

Artwork description & Analysis: By 1920, Rodchenko no longer felt obliged to imbue his basic geometric figures with distinguishable layers of color. In this composition, two perfectly drawn circles intersect. The white circles on black canvas form a powerful juxtaposition liberating the line from any recognizable connotations. This balanced and precise geometric composition underlines Rodchenko's preoccupation with engineering and design that he maintained throughout his career. Rodchenko arrived at compositions such as these by progressively stripping away all that he considered unnecessary in the field of painting; after reducing color to black and emphasizing surface texture, he seized on line as the most important and elemental component of the medium. This development may have been influenced by Wassily Kandinsky's ideas, since the two artists were closely associated, though while Kandinsky stressed the expressive possibilities of line, Rodchenko emphasized its possibilities as a tool of construction.

Oil on canvas - The Pushkin Museum, Moscow

Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color (1921)
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Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color (1921)

Artwork description & Analysis: Here Rodchenko reinterprets the iconic art form of the Western tradition - the triptych - which was traditionally reserved for the representation of religious scenes. The piece reflects Rodchenko's interest in Malevich throughout these years, but instead of pursuing Malevich's spiritualism, he stressed the physical, material properties of painting - in this case, color. Rodchenko regarded these pictures as his final statement on painting, famously writing, "I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue and yellow. I affirmed: it's all over. Basic Colors. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no representation." These monochrome experiments have been a crucial example for later generations of abstract artists, particularly Minimalists.

Oil on canvas - Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova Archive, Moscow

Maquette for the Advertisement of the Red October Bisquittes (1923)
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Maquette for the Advertisement of the Red October Bisquittes (1923)

Artwork description & Analysis: When Rodchenko abandoned painting in 1921, he also abandoned many of the traditional attitudes of the artist as a commentator on society and began instead to put his talents in the service of the Russian industry and the nascent revolution. This is an early example of his work for Russian industry, advertising Red October confectionary. Rigid geometry defines the composition through the juxtaposition of horizontal and vertical lines. The letters themselves are stylized. Both whimsical and visually arresting, Rodchenko's designs were an important influence on such key artistic laboratories as the Bauhaus in the Weimar Republic.

Gouache on paper - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Books (The Advertisement Poster for the Lengiz Publishing House) (1924)
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Books (The Advertisement Poster for the Lengiz Publishing House) (1924)

Artwork description & Analysis: This poster arguably brought Rodchenko the most fame and appreciation from his patrons in the Soviet government. The composition is typical of his use of photomontage in the period (the combination of photography and text). And it also reflects the ways in which he updated Russian advertising, using geometric compositions and strident colors to trumpet modernity. While his designs are directed at promoting individual companies or products, they also - often explicitly - endorse the goals of political revolution.

Photomontage and Gouache on Paper - Private Collection

The Staircase (1930)
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The Staircase (1930)

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



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Alexander Rodchenko Photo

Related Art and Artists

Composition IV (1911)

Composition IV (1911)

Artist: Wassily Kandinsky

Artwork description & Analysis: Hidden within the bright swaths of color and the clear black lines of Composition IV, Kandinsky portrayed several Cossacks with lances, as well as boats, reclining figures, and a castle on a hilltop. As with many paintings from this period, he represented the apocalyptic battle that would lead to eternal peace. The notion of battle is conveyed by the Cossacks, while the calm of the flowing forms and reclining figures on the right alludes to the peace and redemption to follow. In order to facilitate his development of a non-objective style of painting, as described in his text Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912), Kandinsky reduced objects to pictographic symbols. Through his elimination of most references to the outside world, Kandinsky expressed his vision in a more universal manner, distilling the spiritual essence of the subject through these forms into a visual vocabulary. Many of these symbolic figures were repeated and refined in later works, becoming further and further abstracted as Kandinsky developed his mature, purely abstract style.

Oil on canvas - Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfallen, Dusseldorf

Monument to the Third International (1919-1920)
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Monument to the Third International (1919-1920)

Artist: Vladimir Tatlin

Artwork description & Analysis: Monument to the Third International, also sometimes known simply as Tatlin's Tower, is his most famous work, as well as the most important spur to the formation of the Constructivist movement. The Tower, which was never fully realized, was intended to act as a fully functional conference space and propaganda center for the Communist Third International. Its steel spiral frame was to stand at 1,300 feet, making it the tallest structure in the world at the time. It was to be taller, more functional - and therefore more beautiful by Constructivist standards - than the Eiffel Tower. There were to be three glass units, a cube, cylinder, and cone, which would provide functional space for meetings and would rotate once per year, month, and day, respectively. For Tatlin, steel and glass were the essential materials of modern construction. They symbolized industry, technology, and the machine age, and the constant motion of the geometrically shaped units embodied the dynamism of modernity.

Wood, iron, and glass - Destroyed

Black Square (c. 1915)

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

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