Plate, unglazed earthenware, designed by El Lissitzky, Germany, about 1923, made by an unknown maker.
An architect and graphic designer, El Lissitzky (1890-1941) was the most important Russian artist to influence Modernism and one of the great avant-garde figures of the 20th century.
His lifetime involvement with abstract art began in 1919 soon after he met the Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich (see the 'Design' section for a summary of his artistic development and achievements). Between December 1921 and January 1924 he lived and worked in Germany and in 1924 was being treated for tuberculosis in Switzerland. Although initially reluctant to apply his distinctive pictorial vocabulary to utilitarian objects, it is during that time that his abstract pictures known as Prouns began to inform Lissitzky's designs for a group of ceramics. Soon Prouns were also to become the source of his typography, photography and book, furniture and poster design.
This boldly coloured plate is one of the relatively rare examples of Lissitzky's ceramics. Examples of plates for the same series comprising plates of different sizes can be found in the Sammlung Ludewig in Berlin, National Museum in Nuremberg, Deutsches Museum in Munich, Australian National Gallery in Canberra and in other collections.
Designed by El Lissitzky between 1922 and 1924. El Lissitzky (1890-1941) was a Russian painter, architect, designer and a pioneer of modern graphic design and typography. He grew up in Vitebsk and studied architecture at the Technische Hochschule (Polytechnic) in Darmstadt, Germany, between 1909 and 1914. In 1916, he received a diploma in engineering and architecture from the Riga Technological University. In 1919 he was appointed Professor of Architecture and Graphic Art at the newly reorganised art school in Vitebsk and began to collaborate with Kazimir Malevich in the Suprematist Unovis group. In the same year he began to make abstract pictures named Prouns (an acronym in Russian for 'project for the affirmation of the new') in which he extended the vocabulary of Suprematism so that the triangles, trapezia and circles of Malevich took on depth, solidity and textures suggestive of various materials. Part painterly part architectural and part graphic, Prouns became the source of Lissitzky's inventiveness and formed the basis of his subsequent typography, photography and book, ceramic, furniture, exhibition and poster design. (see Dict of Art, pp475-477)
In 1920 Lissitzky became a member of Inkhuk (Art and Culture Institute) in Moscow. The following year he taught at Vkhutemas (State Art and Technical Workshops) with Vladimir Tatlin and joined the Constructivist group.
Between December 1921 and January 1924 Lissitzky lived and worked in Germany becoming one of the three initial Constructivists in Berlin - the other two being Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Teo van Doesburg from the Dutch group De Stijl. As a member (together with van Doesburg) of the faction connected with the Constructivist 'G' journal, Lissitzky initially was reluctant to 'forge links between his formal concepts and the utilitarian objects' (Margolin, p,72). Inspired by the utopian dream of internationalism, he sought to develop a pictorial vocabulary of abstract forms that would be universal. In 1923 Lissitzky was diagnosed with tuberculosis and next year went to Switzerland for treatment which he supported with income from various commissions undertaken locally).
Back in Russia in 1925, Lissitzky found a new situation in the arts where, as a result of the New Economic Policy, arts had to be largely self-supporting. He resumed teaching at Vkhutemas, began to design commercials, magazines and worked on many state commissions. Most significant was his skyscraper for Moscow, designed in collaboration with Emil Roth, which expanded horizontally in the air to save space on the ground. In the 1930s Lissitzky was the Soviet Union's leading designer of publications and exhibitions. Lissitzky was influential internationally in a wide range of art and design practices, including Bauhaus.