Russia's Hermitage Museum loaned The Gallery of New South Wales a cache of early 20th century paintings by all of Europe's heavy hitters from Impressionists like Monet to Post-Impressionists like Cezanne.

The apple of his eye

Along with the art loan of Europe's most famous moderns, Russia added some native sons like Kasimir Malevich, which is odd since he was known for belittling French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists – particularly Cezanne. Even without knowing what he has written on the subject, you can easily see the bias in his painting, which is completely non-representational, marked only by geometric abstractions.

You could sum up the difference between French and Russian modernism by contrasting the apples that Cezanne was known for and Malevich's rectangles and squares for which he is known.

Agenda art

All of which raises a question: did the Hermitage think of its home boy's put-downs of Europe's moderns when deciding to add him to the loan? The answer isn't likely to be forthcoming; but if you read between the lines of what Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky told Artnet about the loan, there's some agenda: ”Every Hermitage exhibit has charm and meaning which lie in that it says as much about the museum overall as it does about the particular slice of cultural history that is its subject.

Russian revolution

Malevich's subject is the power of non-representational color and shape to tell stories. In his painting Black Trapezium and Red Square, for example, he pictured a trapezoidal mass shaded darkly, and despite its size and shadowy shape, fights for attention from a far smaller red square. The painting not only demonstrates the power of color but also makes the point that you don't need recognizable objects to say something.

Malevich went in a wholly different direction from 20th century Europeans and even gave his art its own category - “Suprematism.”

Telling it like he thinks it is

In 1921, Malevich explained his theories under the title “The Non-Objective World” saying, “the appearances of natural objects are in themselves meaningless.” This is a slap in the face of Cezanne who, for thirty straight years, painted the same objects over and over - apples, along with a rum bottle and a green vase.

And while his focus was on shape and color not unlike Malevich, he did it with recognizable objects.

Conspiracy theory

Russian art historian Larissa Zhadova recounted his thinking in “Malevich: Suprematism and revolution in Russian art,” quoting him saying, “Academic naturalism, the naturalism of the Impressionists, of Cezanne...all are nothing but dialectic methodology, which in themselves in no way determines the true value of the work of art.” It's hard to imagine that Hermitage director Piotrovsky was unaware of this “revolution in Russian art” when he decided to add the likes of Malevich to the loan for Australia.