Art A-Z: A – Avant-garde

Avant-garde or Russian avant-garde –  movement of the first quarter of the XX century that implemented new artistic ideas.  The name “avant-garde” was given to the movement because it was the time when Russian art succeeded on the international arena.

N.Goncharova, Cyclist, 1913

Avant-garde was influenced by…:

  • French cubism – a lot of Russian painters studied in Paris, including L.Popova, N.Udaltsova, V.Pestel. Besides, painters could visit the collection of S.Shchukin in Moscow, which was open for the public. Since the beginning of the 1910 Shchukin had in his collection works of P.Picasso and J.Braque. K.Malevich was among famous visitors of the collection.
  • Italian futurism – especially the way how movement is depicted. However futurism did not take strong roots in Russia, but rather a synthesis of cubism and futurism emerged (“cubofuturism”).
  • Russian traditions. Although this seems controversial, because many avantgardists were hostile toward the past, but they mostly criticised academic style and bourgeois culture, rather than traditions as a whole. Russian ancient art was one of sources of inspiration for avant-garde painters. We can find traits of icons in their works – flat images, contrast colours, tension, etc. Symbolic meaning of icons as objects of cult is also reflected in avant-garde painting, for example, Malevich refered to his Black Square as “my icon” and suggested to place it in a corner at exhibitions, like icon. Lubok also influenced avant-garde (see Art A-Z: L – Lubok).
V.Tatlin, design of monument of the III International, 1919-1920

Famous Russian painter Mikhail Vrubel  is considered as one of predecessors of avant- garde, because he was one of few artists who understood value of line and colour per se.

Avant-garde developed in the framework of artistic fellowships and groups, emerged at late 1900s. Since 1910s young avantgardists started to participate in exhibitions in Europe – Burlyuk brothers, Kandinsky, Goncharova, Larionov took part in Blue Knight exhibitions in Munich, Arkhipenko, Baranov-Rossine, Mashkov, Shagal – in Salon d’Automne in Paris.

M.Shagal, Blue House, 1917

The beginning of the World War I could not stop development of avant-garde and by 1915 the movement gained momentum. In short time Russian avant-garde produced multiple styles, but the biggest of them were postcubism and objectlessness. After October Revolution of 1917 new authorities appreciated avant-garde, and for a short period of time supported the movement. A number of new organisations, museums, as well as new system of artistic education appeared.

In terms of ideas avant-garde already told everything by the end of 1910s, and at the beginning of 1920 it started to adapt them to the reality. Avant-garde influenced architecture, including constructivism.

Since mid 1920s Soviet government insisted on creation of mass culture, and avant-garde was not associated with the Soviet future anymore, many avantgagdists lost their posts. In 1932, an ordinance On reshuffle of literature and artistic organisations was issued, all artistic organisations merged onto unions, controlled by the Communist Party. It was the official end of avant-garde in Russia.


Art A-Z: M – Melnikov Konstantin

Konstantin Stepanovich Melnikov (1890, Moscow – 1974, Moscow) – architect.

In 1914, Melnikov graduated from the Faculty of Painting of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, in 1917 – from the Faculty of Architecture of the same establishment.

Since 1920 – professor of Vkhutemas (Higher Art and Technical Studios).

In 1921-1924 he implemented a number of projects that brought him fame, including the pavilion Makhorka for All-Russian Agriculture Exhibition (1923), sarcophagus for Lenin’s Mausoleum, Novo-Sukharevskiy market. In these projects he used new methods – “shift” of forms, dynamics of diagonal and others.

In 1925, Melnikov designed Soviet pavilion for Paris Exhibition of Decorative Arts, which was highly appreciated by the European public. During his stay in Paris, he designed two complexes of garages.

Club Burevestnik

In the second half of 1920s he actively participation in competitions and won several of them, which allowed him to design clubs, public establishments, blocks of flats, etc.

Since the beginning of 1930s – decline of architectural career because of political circumstances, he was accused of formalism like many other Soviet architects of 1920s. Fortunately, he continued his career in education.

Famous works:

  • Club named after Rusakov (see up) (1927-1929)
  • Club Kauchuk (1927-1929)
  • Club Burevestnik (1927-1929)
  • Private experimental house



Read more about Melnikov and his family here –

Inside Melnikov’s Experimental House

Art A-Z: C – Chechulin Dmitry

Dmitry Nikolaevich Chechulin (1901, Shostka – 1981, Moscow) – architect.

Born to a family of workers, he widely supported Revolution of 1917. At the beginning of career worked as decorator at theatre and circus, painted portraits and landscapes, made sculptors.

White House, 1970

After the Great Patriotic War he became senior architect of Moscow (1945 – 1949) and seriously influenced the look of the city. He supported construction of skyscrapers in Moscow (7 sisters), and was one of the authors of famous building on Kotelnicheskaya embankment (1948 – 1953).

Station Komsomolskaya radial (1935)

Chechulin made several projects for Moscow’s Metro and VDNKh (Exhibition of achievements of National Economy). Among the most interesting projects:

  • Metro station Komsomolskaya – radial (1935)
  • Reconstruction of Chaykovskiy Concert Hall (1940)
  • Hotel “Rossiya” (1967 – 1970) (destroyed)
  • Building of government, “White House” (1970)


  • People’s architect of the USSR (1971)
  • Hero of socialistic labour (1976)
  • State award of the USSR (1941, 1949, 1953)

Author of a book “Life and architecture”.


Learn more about Dmitry Chechulin in the course of our Metro Tour.


Art A-Z: A – Abramtsevo Circle

(Art A-Z is a dictionary of Russian art)

Abramtsevo circle – fellowship of outstanding Russian artists (painters, sculptors, architects) emerged in mid 1870s in Abramtsevo, estate owned by famous philanthropist Savva Mamontov.

Rich entrepreneur Savva Mamontov bought Abramtsevo, situated not far from Moscow, in 1870, the estate was previously owned by a family of Russian writer, Aksakov.

Mamontov was connoisseur of art and financially supported a lot of artists, including prominent Russian singer Fedor Shalyapin.

In Abramtsevo, Mamontov gathered painters Viktor Vasnetsov, Vasiliy Polenov, Ilya Repin, Mikhail Vrubel, Valentin Serov, Mikhail Nesterov, scultptor Mark Antokolsiy and others. The fellowship did not have any charter or programme and was inspired by Russian history, folklore and fairy tales.

The group’s aesthetics was influenced by modern, symbolism and neo-Russian style, although  each representative had his own particular style.

мамонтов и ко
Left to right – Surikov (seating), Repin, Mamontov (at the piano), Korovin, Serov, Antokolskiy

Mamontov also paid attention to applied arts and created a ceramic workshop in Abramtsevo, which was transferred to Moscow at the beginning of 1900s when the fellowship split up. The workshop was the place where a lot of decorative panels were made for buildings in Moscow.

Tip 1

You can learn more about Savva Mamontov and some members of Abramtsevo Circle in the course of our Walking Tour.

Tip 2

Abramtsevo is open for visits, it is a very nice place to go in summer.

Inside Melnikov’s Experimental House

Every fan of constructivism in the world recognises cylinder silhouette of the Melnikov’s house, one of the most famous buildings in Moscow. However, very few know how the house looks like inside. Despite peculiar facade, its interior is quite conventional, but the history of the house is still unique.

The sole entrance to the house. Above big window there is caption – “Konstantin Melnikov. Architect”. As you can see, the building is in poor condition, but restoration will be conducted soon.

Architect Konstantin Melnikov moved in here together with his wife Anna, their son and daughter in 1929. His son lived here until his death in 2006. Since then, Konstantin’s descendants fought with the Moscow Museum of Architecture for control over the house, eventually the house was transformed into museum in 2013.

Melnikov was gained right to use a territory in the center of Moscow in 1927. By that time he had already executed several projects that brought him fame, including Soviet pavilion at the Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925 and sarcophagus for Lenin’s body. He had a lot of orders and was able to build the house using his own money.


The initial project comprised an edifice composed of two cylinders, which were same in size. But in the process of construction, the foundation of previous house was found, that is why the author had to make one cylinder taller than the other one. Melnikov chose the form of cylinder because it helped to use less material than for a standard regular construction.

The interesting fact is fact the author organised the territory basing on principles of Russian manor – the house is in the center of it, and not on the red line of the street, from the side of the street there are two gates and behind the building there is a yard (the funny thing is that since Peter the Great the administration of the city fought to make dwellers build their houses on the red line, and only in Soviet time the problem was solved).

The building has three floors with kitchen, dining room, bath room, wardrobe on the first floor, living room and bed room on the second floor and architect’s workshop on the third floor.

Dining room

The first floor seems a little bit dark and its interior has acute contrast with the exterior. As you can see in the photo, the dining room’s furniture dates back to the beginning of the XXth century. The chair with letter “K” belonged to Konstantin Melnikov, embroidery was made by his wife Anna (her chair with letter A is opposite her husband’s)

Kitchen – view of a cooler

Near the dining room there is a kitchen, in the photo you can see an interesting detail – a cooler that was made out of a window cut. In fact, the very structure of the building looks like grid, Melnikov didn’t cut the windows, he filled open spaces with remained material instead. Even today, some new “window” can theoretically be open. This cooler is a good example of the author’s non-convetional thinking, who not only created outstanding edifice, but elaborated smart menage – he organised heating system, etc.

Living room

On the second floor there is a specious living room with Melnikov’s desk, where he worked when his architectural career declined. In the beginning of the 1930s, a group of architects wanted to create new style, more adapt for young Soviet state than constructivism, which was considered too “formal”. In addition, according to one version, Melnikov had personal conflict with his former student Alabyan, who became apologist of a “new” style. The latter made a lot of efforts to prevent Melnikov from architectural job, and he had to work as professor almost till the end of his life.

The pink carpet on the floor was brought from Belgium and the colour of the walls was picked in order to match the carpet. The small window on the right was cut here because the architect found out that it would open on a church that he liked (today the church is not visible because new building were erected in front of it).

Here you can see how one cylinder overlaps with the other

Next to the living room there is bedroom, which looks completely different in comparison to its original design. Initially, there was no furniture in the room except podium which served as bed (the children also slept here, their beds were separated by a curtain). The emptiness is explained by Melnikov theory of sleep – he thought that in order to sleep well it was necessary to rule out any element of distraction, for example, family members read in other rooms (children had special study rooms on the first floor), and that is why there was even no lighting. However, there are so many windows, which open on three sides, so it was difficult to fall asleep. Later, under Anna’s influence the bedroom took more traditional forms – she brought here the furniture that she had before marriage, and Konstantin slept in the living room.

Bedroom. Anna’s bed. The room was repainted in the 1990s, originally the colour was more golden
Anna’s toilet table

The last floor is occupied entirely by Melnikov’s workshop, where his son Viktor, who was a painter, also worked.

The house was designed as experimental, meaning that it could become example for other architect’s workshops, but up to date there is no similar building in Moscow and in the whole world.

This is the brightest room in the house!

“I never could design anything that would be boring. And I considered uniteresting and boring everything that resembled me things that I’ve already seen”.

Konstantin Melnikov