What Crackle, What Thunder


This World War I propaganda poster by Kazimir Malevich refers to a battle near Lomza (present-day Poland), where despite initial success, the Russians suffered heavy losses. A heroic Russian peasant figure slashing German soldiers with his scythe dominates the view. His traditional dress and lapti (woven bark shoes) seem to epitomize Russia’s strength and invincibility. German soldiers are running away or lie dead. Under the picture is a verse by Vladimir Mayakovsky that reads: “What crackle, what thunder there was from the Germans at Lomza!” In the early stages of the war, a number of Russian avant-garde artists, including Malevich, Mayakovsky, and Aristarkh Lentulov, formed the group Segodnyashnii Lubok (Today’s lubok), which produced satirical anti-German and anti-Austrian posters and postcards to support the Russian war effort. The name originated from the traditional Russian folk prints, lubok, which combined simple pictures and narratives from popular tales. These artists adapted the style of lubok to their posters, making them readily accessible to the masses and effective as a way of strengthening national morale. The Ukrainian-born Malevich studied art in Kiev and Moscow. He experimented with realism, impressionism, and cubism before turning to what he called “suprematism,” which focused on pure geometric forms and color. Malevich explained his theory of suprematism in essays and applied it to visual works, notably the stage sets he created for Mystery Bouffe, a 1918 play by Mayakovsky. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Malevich held important administrative and teaching positions, but he came under attack after the Soviet government condemned modernist and abstract art as decadent and bourgeois. His works were largely forgotten for a time, but he is now recognized as one of the major artists of the 20th century.

Last updated: April 1, 2015