Varvara Stepanova

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1920s. Rodchenko and Stepanova.
Varvara Stepanova, Henri Le Fauconnier and Jean Metzinger, Paris 1921.

Varvara Fyodorovna Stepanova (Russian: Варва́ра Фёдоровна Степа́нова; November 9, 1894[1]-May 20, 1958), was a Russian artist associated with the 'Constructivist' movement.


Varvara Stepanova came from peasant origins but was fortunate enough to get an education at Kazan Art School, Odessa. There she met her lifelong friend and collaborator Alexander Rodchenko. In the years before the Russian Revolution of 1917 they leased an apartment in Moscow, owned by Wassily Kandinsky. These artists became some of the main figures in the Russian avant-garde. The new abstract art in Russia which began around 1909, was a culmination of influences from Cubism, Italian Futurism and traditional peasant art. She designed Cubo-Futurist work for several artists' books, and studied under Jean Metzinger at Académie de La Palette, an art academy where the painters André Dunoyer de Segonzac and Henri Le Fauconnier also taught.[2]

In the years following the revolution, Stepanova contributed work to the Fifth State Exhibition and the Tenth State Exhibition, both in 1919. In 1920 came a division between painters like Kasimir Malevich who continued to paint with the idea that art was a spiritual activity, and those who believed that they must work directly for the revolutionary development of the society. In 1921, together with Aleksei Gan, Rodchenko and Stepanova formed the first Working Group of Constructivists, which rejected fine art in favour of graphic design, photography, posters, and political propaganda.[3] Also in 1921, Stepanova declared in her text for the exhibition 5x5=25, held in Moscow:

'Composition is the contemplative approach of the artist. Technique and Industry have confronted art with the problem of construction as an active process and not reflective. The 'sanctity' of a work as a single entity is destroyed. The museum which was the treasury of art is now transformed into an archive'.

The term 'Constructivist' was by then being used by the artists themselves to describe the direction their work was taking. The theatre was another area where artists were able to communicate new artistic and social ideas. Stepanova designed the sets for The Death of Tarelkin in 1922. She carried out her ideal of engaging with industrial production in the following year when she, with Lyubov Popova, became designer of textiles at the Tsindel (the First State Textile Factory) near Moscow, and in 1924 became professor of textile design at the Vkhutemas (Higher Technical Artistic Studios) while continuing typography, book design and contributing to the magazine LEF.

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^
  2. ^ Examiner, Constructivism & early avant-garde Russian fashion design, November 3, 2009
  3. ^ "Rodchenko, Alexander." by Yvonne Jones in The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Accessed 10 May 2013,
  • The Russian Experiment in Art, Camilla Gray, Thames and Hudson,1976
  • Avant-garde Russe, Andrei Nakov, Art Data, 1986

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