Life, art and design 1905 – part two

There was tremendous hope for a new modern society after the Russian revolution and civil war, and a new geometric, dynamic and sometimes playful style in art and design, constructivism, grew in the early 1920s from the avant-garde ideas which developed earlier in the century.

el lissitsky 2 squares 1922

El Lissitsky 1922

Alexandra exter set design 1926

Alexandra Exter set design 1927

russian textile

soviet textiles 1920s

Soviet textiles 1920s

Although constructivism was revolutionary and full of force and vigour, it was eventually suppressed in favour of social realism, which the working people could understand, and which was not based on a desire for freedom and innovation, anathema to the Bolsheviks. It was probably this force and the geometric patterns and diagonal lines in futurism and constructivism that led to the popular art deco style, which, like Art Nouveau, influenced graphic design, posters, furniture, jewellery, textiles and ceramics.

art deco teapot

Clarice Cliff art deco teapot


Art deco Odessa travel poster

1929 Soviet poster by Valentina Kulagina

Valentina Kulagina 1929 poster commemorating the 1905 revolution

Outside of Russia, purely abstract art was developed mostly through the Bauhaus in the 1920s, and then suppressed by the Nazis in the 1930s. Again Kandinsky was a huge influence.


Kandinsky 1923


Paul Klee 1925

Paul Klee puppets 2

Paul Klee puppets

Many European artists emigrated to America between the wars or just before World War II. A group of them and several Americans such as Jackson Pollock began developing abstract styles after the war. Mark Rothko, born in Russia in 1903, may have something of Malevich and the suprematists in his work, but his paintings of rectangles are also thought to have been inspired by the 1905 pogroms and stories of mass graves that his family told but he almost never spoke of. And so we come full circle back to the pogrom in 1905.

mark-rothko 1956

Mark Rothko 1956

Life, art and design 1905

The one style that probably did influence everyday life in the early 1900s was Art Nouveau, which permeated design on every level, from architecture to furniture, wallpaper, illustration, jewellery, advertisements, posters, postcards, shop signs and textiles. There is no one who would not have seen posters on the street, shop signs, book illustration and postcards with the typical swirling patterns of art nouveau, and many household items would have been influenced to some extent.

odessa postcard 1902                                                              Odessa postcard 1902

Russian poster art nouveau soap

Russian Art Nouveau soap ad

 Vasalisa by bilibin 1899

Illustration Vasalisa by Bilibin, 1899

Popular artistic styles like the swirling figures and lettering of art nouveau would only have touched people’s lives minimally in their own homes, through the covers of books or magazines, a vase, or decorated tin.

Vysotsky tin flowers

Vysotsky tea tin

At the same time, an explosion into abstraction in art was beginning in the early 1900s, slowly in Germany and France, following the lead in Art Nouveau with artists like Klimt and Kandinsky, who went back and forth from Germany to Russia. At first, abstraction was brought into design, such as in fabrics, furniture and architecture, but painting soon followed with an incredible liveliness.

frances macdonald 1896

Frances Macdonald 1896

riemerschmid 1905

Fabric Riemerschmid 1905

klimt 1905 stoclet frieze

Klimt 1905

cezanne Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1905

Cézanne 1905

matisse 1905

Matisse 1905

kandinsky 1909

Kandinsky 1909

kandinsky 1910

Kandinsky 1910

jonasch 1910

Fabric Jonasch 1910

In early 1900s Russia, there was the realist style of painting of Repin, the satirical art of political posters and newspapers, and an Impressionism which moved close to abstraction at times. Artists of different styles responded to the events of 1905, especially the political graphic artists, but others as well.

Russia 1905


Ivanov the execution 1905

Ivanov The execution 1905

MAC_020515 001

Isaac Brodsky Mother and sister 1905

Isaac Brodsky was from Odessa. My first impression of this painting of his mother and sister was that the girl seemed frightened and the two were clutching each other. This might be an over interpretation.

The earliest purely abstract art began with Malevich in Russia in 1912, inspired by a movement called suprematism in avant-garde poetry and modernist literature.


Malevich 1912

suprematist poetry

Suprematist poetry

This movement rejected that art needed to come from the natural or real world but could be centred solely on itself. Kandinsky was originally part of this movement but was later rejected because of his mysticism, seeing other meanings behind his purely abstract forms. The later Russian movement, constructivism, which grew up after the revolution, was inspired by Italian futurism and other movements that developed as artists watched the destruction and mechanisation of life during World War I. It developed through painting, sculpture, graphic design, textiles, theatre design and architecture.

To be continued…