Van Abbemuseum announce discovery of unknown painting by El Lissitzky

An up-to-now unknown Proun painting by the Russian artist El Lissitzky (1890 – 1941) will be exhibited in the Lissitzky – Kabakov, Utopia and Reality exhibition from Tuesday 9 April.

Microsoft Word - press-release_unknown-Proun_080413.docEl Lissitkzy, Proun Vrashchenia, ca. 1919. Photo Perry van Duijnhoven

The painting dates from the beginning of Lissitzky’s period in Vitebsk, circa 1919, and is entitled Proun Vrashchenia. Charles Esche, the director of the Van Abbemuseum, is very pleased with this exceptional loan: “The Van Abbemuseum has the largest Lissitzky collection outside Russia and we actively exhibit it and develop new projects with it. The museum is increasingly becoming a centre for the study of the art of the former Soviet area. For example, we have a growing number of contacts with museums and institutions in that part of the world. That’s how we received a tip about this painting, and as it seemed serious, we were very keen to follow it up. The painting proved to be an original that had never been exhibited in public anywhere. Therefore this is the first time that the world can see it. The owner was prepared to make an exception and loan the work for the Lissitkzy – Kabakov exhibition, on condition that he remains anonymous.”

The painting that was discovered dates from the beginning of the period during which Lissitzky was working in Vitebsk with Chagall and Malevich in about 1919. The work is entitled Proun Vrashchenia. The Russian word vrashchenia (‘вращения’) means “revolutions” or “rotations”. Lissitzky signed the back of the painting in Cyrillic letters. It measures 49.7 x 34.5 cm.

The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow has a small sketch(18.3 x 11.4 cm.) which serves as a preliminary study for this painting, on which Lissitzky wrote the word “vrashchenia”. Furthermore, this sketch is numbered: no.17. This number is important for dating the work; it places the sketch and the painting close toProunP23 no. 6 (1919) in the Van Abbemuseum collection.

El Lissitzky (1890 – 1941) did not produce many paintings during his lifetime, and he did most during the period 1919- 1924. The total number of these paintings, the so-called Prouns, is estimated at approximately thirty. Most of these found their way into public collections over the years .The word “Proun” is probably an abbreviation of “pro” and “unovis”, an abbreviation of “utverdetili novogo isskustva”, i.e., “advocates of the new art”. In fact, Unovis is the name of a controversial group of artists at the beginning of the last century in the early days of the Soviet Union. This group was formed around Malevich and Lissitzky at the end of 1919 in Vitebsk (in the current Belarus). They were interested in an entirely new art form which served the revolution and its spread.