Russian-Polish artist Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition (1916) realised $85.8m at Christie’s New York on May 15, setting a new record for his work at auction.
Malevich’s previous record was $60m, set for this same canvas at Sotheby’s in 2008.
Malevich executed the work in the months following his inclusion in the groundbreaking 0,10 exhibition at the Dobychina Art Bureau in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) in 1915.
This show introduced the world to the concept of Suprematism, a movement based around the suspension of geometric figures in void space. Malevich saw his work as an expression of a higher state of consciousness.
As he put it: "When the mind’s habit of seeing depictions of corners of nature, Madonnas and shameless Venuses in paintings vanishes, only then will we see purely painterly works."
“Malevich pushed the boundaries of painting, forever changing the advancement of art and providing a gateway for the evolution of Modernism,” explains Loic Gouzer, co-chairman of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s New York. “Without the Suprematist Composition paintings, the art being made today would not exist as we know it.”
Suprematist Composition was exhibited in Berlin in 1927 and remained there until Malevich died in 1935. It was kept safe through the chaos of the war years, emerging later in Amsterdam – where it was housed in the archives of the Stedelijk Museum. The work was returned to Malevich’s descendants in 2008, leading to that first record sale at Sotheby’s.
Constantin Brancusi’s La jeune fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard) also set an artist record at the impressionist and modern art auction, achieving a massive $71m.
The startling sculpture dates to 1932 and is constructed from bronze set on a marble base. The inspiration for the work, British-American heiress and anti-fascist campaigner Nancy Cunard, never actually posed for Brancusi. The pair only met once at a party in 1923. Clearly she made a lasting impression on him.
The previous record stood at $57.3m, set by La Muse Endormie last year.