Vladimir Tatlin

The Sailor (Self Portrait). Vladimir Tatlin
The Sailor (Self Portrait)

Vladimir Tatlin – the “mad genius” of the Russian avant-garde

Vladimir Evgrafovich Tatlin was born December 28, 1885 – died May 31, 1953. Russian, as well as a Soviet artist of the XX century, graphic artist, designer, decorator. One of the most important figures of the Russian avant-garde, the founder of constructivism. Extraordinary discoveries in the field of art made the work of Vladimir Tatlin legendary. His paintings, which bring the pictorial plane into three-dimensional space, bear the stamp of undeniable talent. The master”s biography is an artistic manifestation, an exciting impulse, an eternal search for new forms of expression.

Цветы 1940. Vladimir Tatlin
Цветы 1940

Biography of Vladimir Tatlin

Vladimir Evgrafovich Tatlin was born in Moscow on December 28, 1885. From early childhood, the boy was fond of drawing. After the death of his mother, the orphaned family moved to Kharkov, and soon his father married a second time. The relationship with his stepmother went wrong, and at the age of 13, Volodya ran away from home. He went “to the south”, to Odessa, where he hired a cabin boy on a steamer. After returning from the voyage, the young man moved to Moscow, where he was interrupted by rare earnings.

Vladimir Evgrafovich Tatlin entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1902, but a year later he was expelled for bad behavior. In 1904, as a student of the Odessa sailor, he made his second voyage in his life. The artist will retain his passionate love for the sea until the end of his days, and the impressions received on distant wanderings will be useful to him in his work.

Woman's Portrait. Vladimir Tatlin
Woman’s Portrait

In 1905-1910, the young man studied at the Penza Art School. His favorite teacher was Alexei Fedorovich Afanasyev, an expert in folklore, a well-known illustrator of fairy tales. It was in Penza that remarkable talent was first manifested, the creative potential of a nugget developed.

In 1910, Vladimir Tatlin became close to the leader of avant-garde artists Mikhail Fedorovich Larionov. He “infected” him with an impressionistic mood, which later resulted in an addiction to the traditions of neo-primitivism. In the same period, our hero began to attend meetings of futurist poets: the Burliuk brothers, Velimir Khlebnikov, Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky.

Vladimir Tatlin. Sketch for stage set, Glinka's Ivan Susanin
Sketch for stage set, Glinka’s Ivan Susanin

In the next few years, Vladimir Evgrafovich created his most significant paintings – “Sailor”, “Fish Seller”, a series of “Models”. These works were brilliant, but the framework of easel painting was too narrow for the aspiring artist, and from the mid-1910s he turned to other forms of art.

In 1914, taking this opportunity, Vladimir Tatlin went to Paris for a few days, where he visited the workshop of Pablo Picasso. Shy, he pretended to be a bandura musician who had nothing to do with painting in front of the idol, but at the same time managed to carefully examine the works of the great master.

The meeting, which became an epoch-making for the artist, inspired him to a series of “counter-reliefs” – volumetric abstract forms made of different materials that do not match at all. The language of the future applied art was laid in them. In 1915, the works were presented at the legendary exhibition “0.10”, summing up the results of futurism. But Kazimir Severinovich Malevich”s masterpiece Black Square eclipsed the rest of the exhibits, including the counter-reliefs.

Vladimir Tatlin. Monument to commemorate the Third International 1919-1920
Monument to commemorate the Third International 1919-1920

Deeply wounded, Vladimir Tatlin accused his opponent of stealing his ideas. Since then, the relationship between the two titans of the avant-garde, “sworn colleagues”, has developed into a prolonged confrontation. Tatlin called for “touch”, while Malevich was interested only in form and color. Once, in the heat of an argument, Vladimir Evgrafovich knocked out a chair from under his opponent, advising him to rely on “geometry and color.”

Tatlin greeted the October Revolution with incredible enthusiasm. During the period of devastation and famine, he worked hard on the project of the monument building, which was to become a symbol of the era. The utopian dream – “Monument to the Third International” – was not realized, although Vladimir Ilyich Lenin himself attended the presentation in November 1920. Otherwise, Soviet citizens risked seeing a 400-meter-high rotating spiral with hanging structures inside high in the sky … However, the author himself did not notice any oddity in it.

Leningrad 1936. Vladimir Tatlin
Leningrad 1936

Later, Vladimir Tatlin conceived another unrealizable project – the Letatlin aircraft, which moves according to the principle of a bird”s flight. The shapes of the car were copied from sketches by Leonardo da Vinci. It didn’t come to testing the model.

In the 1930s, the artist devoted himself entirely to the theater. Being a great original, he invented a wooden curtain for one production, and decorated the play “The Taming of the Shrew” with tapestries in the spirit of the Renaissance.

Several years before his death, Vladimir Tatlin left the theater. He was incredibly lonely. The genius of the avant-garde died on May 31, 1953 in Moscow; only 8 people attended his funeral. The artist”s ashes rest at the Novodevichy cemetery.


The most famous paintings by Vladimir Evgrafovich Tatlin

Most of the master”s paintings have become iconic for the Russian avant-garde. They were written in the then fashionable expressive-generalized style close to Cubism. The main expressive means of the master is a stretched line. Among the most famous paintings by Vladimir Tatlin:

  1. “Sailor (Self-portrait)” (1911) – the author portrayed himself as a cabin boy on a ship. The last letter in the word “Guarding” on the peakless cap is inverted, as in a mirror image. Small figures and a cannon in the background create a sharp rhythm for the outlines.
  2. “Fish Seller” (1911) – by fragmenting the image, the master divides it into planes. The boundaries of the elements are defined by heavy contours. The perspective is skewed, the silhouettes of figures and objects are flattened.
  3. The Model (1913) – this work is an amazing synthesis of cubism, futurism and primitivism. The author builds the composition on the rhythm of lines and spots, he is worried about the transfer of volume on the plane, and not the model itself.
  4. “Skull on an Opened Book” (1950) – a still life created in the genre of vanitas, speaks of the vanity of life.

The strength of Tatlin”s works lies in maximum simplicity. An artist of a unique range, a fantastic experimenter, he created a new type of art – a symbiosis of painting, sculpture and architecture. His works served as a source of inspiration for the German Dadaists, who perceived the work of the master as a revolution. Much of the legacy of Vladimir Tatlin has been lost, much has been destroyed, but the place of the leader of the avant-garde is fixed to him forever.

A Skull on the Open Book 1950
A Skull on the Open Book 1950
Composition (the month of May)
Composition (the month of May)
Board Number 1 (Staro-Basmannaya Street)
Board Number 1 (Staro-Basmannaya Street)