Suprematist Composition, the most expensive Russian art

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Suprematist Composition by Kazimir Malevich

Suprematist Composition (Blue rectangle over the red beam), oil on canvas painting by Kazimir Malevich, 88.5 cm x 71 cm (34.8 in x 28 in), private collection

The Suprematist Composition (Blue rectangle over the red beam) is an oil painting by the Russian painter Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935). The painting depicts a rare combination of geometrical figures and bright colors arranged harmoniously in space.

Created in 1916, the Suprematist Composition was exhibited in Moscow in 1919-20. In 1927 Malevich exhibited the work at exhibitions in Warsaw, Munich and later at the Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung in Berlin. These exhibitions brought him international fame and recognition of his artistic style. But abruptly he had to return to the Soviet Union (USSR) in June1927 when he was summoned home.

Malevich left his paintings behind in Germany when he returned to the Soviet Union because he anticipated an antagonistic shift in the policy of the Soviet authorities towards modern art. As he anticipated, the Soviets under Stalin branded abstract and other modernist art forms as a ‘type of Bourgeois Art’. As a result, most of the works of Malevich were confiscated by the government and he was disallowed to create and exhibit such art.

From 1927, Malevich was also not allowed by the Soviet Government to travel abroad until his death in 1935. So, the Suprematist Composition, along with his other works, went under the supervision of the German architect Hugo Haring.

Haring brought the paintings to Amsterdam from Germany where they were branded as ‘degenerate art’ by the Nazis, and because he feared that they could be confiscated by the Nazis, and he could be personally harmed for possessing such art. According to reports, the collection included over 100 paintings by the artist, making it the largest Malevich collection outside the former Soviet Union. Later, in 1958, they were acquired by City of Amsterdam from the heirs of Haring. Since then the paintings remained in the city’s Stedelijk Museum for about 50 years.

In 2003-2004, when the museum exhibited the paintings of Malevich in the United States, the heirs of Malevich challenged the right of the heirs of Haring to dispose of Malevich’s works, and also disputed the rights of the Stedelijk Museum.

Following a 4-year legal battle, the parties reached a settlement under which the museum transferred five major paintings to the heirs of Malevich from their collection. And after 17 years of legal battle over the ownership of the painting, Suprematist Composition was returned to the heirs of the artist.

In November 2008, Suprematist Composition was sold to an anonymous buyer for $60 million ($63.7 million, inflation-adjusted value in US dollars as of December 2011) by the heirs of Kazimir Malevich at an auction at Sotheby’s in New York, setting a new record as the most expensive work in the history of Russian art ever sold in an auction, and it is one of the most expensive paintings in the world.

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