Ivan Kliun (1873-1943)
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Ivan Kliun was a painter, graphic artist and sculptor born near Kiev, Russia. Kliun was initially a book-keeper with a penchant for drawing, and became involved in art relatively later in life than his contemporaries. He received formal training in the 1890’s in Warsaw, as well as the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg before meeting Kasimir Malevich at Rerberg’s studio in Moscow.
Malevich introduced the provincial Kliun to the Russian avant-garde, which he embraced with enthusiasm. Exhibiting from 1910 (not least with the Union of Youth group), he demonstrated great competence in the new modes, often described as Cubo-Futurism. By 1915 he was producing works in the “Suprematist” style, which featured geometric shapes, and very simple forms, such as a single black circle on a blank canvas. These date mainly from the period 1915-24. He held an official position in art teaching after the revolution until 1921.
Courtesy The Lili Brochetain Collection
Kliun is still thought of as a minor figure in Russian art and one could not regard him as innovative. His trajectory matched so many artists post-1905: from academic art to the eager pursuit of the various concurrent artistic revolutions/movements which burgeoned before and during WWI. Popova and Brancusi are but two examples. He had the misfortune however of being committed to the Russian revolution, a revolution which at first liberated and then enslaved Russian artists. He had little choice- with the rise of Stalin it was Socialist Realism, emigration or death. Socialist Realism was the usual choice made by leftist artists- the alternative was to abandon the revolution. He died isolated and no doubt alienated in 1942.
With the renewed interest in avant-garde Russian art and the Russian nuevo-riche who have fuelled the massive price rises, Kliun is receiving considerable attention from the market. Unfortunately, he is also attracting attention from forgers for the same reason. His simpler abstract works are easy to fake, though these fakes would in no way match the compositional clarity which marks Kliun’s work.
However, Kliun also created other compositions distinctly different from that of his “Suprematist” style, including landscapes painted “en plein air” (outdoors) in the Impressionist style. These landscapes reflected the countryside where he lived, and were often a striking contrast to the majority of the body of his work. His landscapes painted during the years 1914-1915 have been compared to the style of Gaugin, and some were even copied directly from French landscapes. While some artists may have only painted in one style at a time, Kliun created Suprematist compositions and Impressionistic landscapes in tandem.
Today, Kliun’s work is housed in modern art museums all over the world, and perhaps in your own home. Still wondering about a Russian Impressionist landscape or Suprematist piece in your family estate? Contact us…it could be by Ivan Kliun.