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Scandalous “Jack of Diamonds”: How daring Russian artists from hooligans and provocateurs turned into avant-garde classics

At the beginning of the last century, this community of rebellious artists was almost the most scandalous in our country. No wonder, after all, the shocking creative group “The Jack of Diamonds” challenged painters and academics. Everything was provocative in this “grouping” – its very name, the first exhibition and, of course, the pictures that were painted by young artists. Creativity outrageous “bubnovovalevetsev” caused outrage in conservative circles of art historians and painters of Tsarist Russia. However, it was precisely these rebels who were destined to become the forefathers of avant-garde.

Provocative creativity
The name “Jack of Diamonds” caused a lot of surprise and even resentment in cultural circles. On the one hand, it referred to gambling, and on the other hand, it reminded of convicts in prison robes, on which they made a rhombus, which they were called “diamond aces”. Meanwhile, by that time, the older generation had not forgotten how Moscow and other cities of Russia at the end of the 19th century were kept in fear by the criminal group of swindlers and robbers The Club of Red Jacks. In general, something more outrageous was hard to come up with.

It is believed that the word “avant-gardists” was first applied to Alexander Benoit in relation to the “Bubnovovaletovtsam”, who doubly related to their work, but certainly was not indifferent to it. The artist, theorist, organizer of the creative association “World of Art” believed that painting can be divided into three main areas: avant-garde, rearguard, and center. He attributed himself and his like-minded people to the center, and dubbed “radical” colleagues avant-gardists.

The first exhibition of the community, called the “Jack of Diamonds”, was held in 1910 in Moscow. Young and bold painters Aristarkh Lentulov, Petr Konchalovsky, Natalia Goncharova and many others presented their works at it. Exhibited here was Kazimir Malevich, who was not part of the community, but partly shared his philosophy.

“Whoever remembers this exhibition, he should not forget the impression,” Malevich recalled about it later. “Many of the audience were amazed so much that the painting deprived them of their support.

Presented paintings, according to the great artist, were “like a flame.” This characteristic clearly reflects the effect that the work of young and audacious “bubnovovalettsev” had on the public.

A year later, the artists established the community of the same name. They worked in different directions – for example, cubism, futurism, primitivism – and experimented with new styles. The main thing – to move away from the boring academic and show a bright individuality. This approach has caused serious criticism from their colleagues.

Peasant Artist
The philosophy of bubovovalevetsy is well traced in their work, and academic artists of that time could not help but notice it.

The painting by Ilya Mashkov “Self-portrait and portrait of Pyotr Konchalovsky” depicts two half-naked bodybuilders. The author painted relief musculature on the bodies (in real life, the artists looked somewhat more modest), reinforcing the effect with the kettlebells standing next to them. At the same time, one “pitching” in the hands of a violin, and next is the piano. The score shows a bullfighter with a bull and says “Bomb”.

The picture shows the viewer a new type of artist – this is no longer the subtle, pale and effeminate “creator”, but a painter of the “blood and milk” type, a strong and energetic peasant who burst into his safe harbor with academics. By the way, Mashkov himself was from peasants.

In the works of bubnovovalevtsev you can often find still lifes. Most often, these are not delicate field flowers, but bright large fruits or similar bright, simple bouquets.

For example, Mashkov’s still life, “Fruits on a platter”, with a simple, circularly lined fruit, captivates with its defiant simplicity and concrete. By the way, five years ago, he was sold at Christie’s for 7.2 million dollars.

Artists eloquently demonstrated their self-perception and their attitude to art on self-portraits. For example, Aristarkh Lentulov portrayed himself as a portly rosy-cheeked merchant in a bright, cheerful shirt. In the picture he stands, arms akimbo, and his look is so ironic that he laughs and looks. Self-irony is supported by the name of the painting – “The Great Artist”.

Not denied a sense of humor and Peter Konchalovsky. His self-portrait is an “average” citizen – by the look of a typical clerk with a mundanely-pensive look.

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