El Lissitzky

Born: 1890, Pochinok (Smolensk Province)
Died: 1941, Skhodnya (Moscow Region)

Painter, graphic artist, architect, designer, illustrator, writer on art, teacher. Born Eliezer Lisitsky in the family of Jewish craftsman Mordukh Lisitsky and housewife Sarra Leiboyna in the town of Pochinok near Smolensk (1890). Studied painting under Yehuda Pen in Vitebsk (from 1903) and graduated from Smolensk Realschule (1909). Passed the entrance exams for the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg, but rejected due to the quotas placed on Jewish students (1909). Studied architectural engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Darmstadt (1909–14). Visited France and Italy (1912). Returned to Russia through Switzerland and the Balkans following the outbreak of the First World War (1914). Settled in Moscow (1914), where he worked in the architectural studios of Boris Velikovsky and Roman Klein and attended classes at the evacuated Riga Polytechnic Institute (1915–18). Studied the interior decor of synagogues in White Russia and Lithuania for the Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society (1916). Designed the cover of Konstantin Bolshakov’s Spent Sun (1916) and illustrated Moishe Broderzon’s Sikhes Kholin: Prager legende (1917). Worked for the art section of the Moscow Soviet of Workers’ Deputies (1917–18), where he met Kazimir Malevich (1917). Member of IZO Narkompros (1918). Moved to Kiev (1918), where he helped to found the Kultur Lige (1918) and illustrated Chad Gadya (1919). Moved to Petrograd (1919), where he met Marc Chagall (1919), who invited him to head the studio of architecture at the Vitebsk School of Art (1919). Moved to Vitebsk (1919), where he opened a studio of printing and graphic design (1919). Visited Moscow to buy equipment for his studio and persuaded Kazimir Malevich to move to Vitebsk (1919). Began work on a series of Prouns (1919). Founding member of UNOVIS (1920), member of the UNOVIS creative committee (1920). Shortened his name to the Suprematist El (1920). Moved to Moscow following a conflict with Kazimir Malevich over the Constructivist direction of the Prouns (1920). Read lectures at the Institute of Artistic Culture (from 1920) and taught architecture and monumental painting at the VKhUTEMAS (1921). Sent by IZO Narkompros to Berlin (1921), where he published Suprematist Tale of Two Squares (1922), edited the trilingual magazine Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet with Ilya Ehrenburg (1922) and designed the layout of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s For the Voice poetry collection (1923). Contracted tuberculosis (1923) and moved to sanatoriums near Locarno in Switzerland (1924). Returned to Moscow after the Swiss government refused to extend his visa (1925). Member of the Association of New Architects (1925). Taught at the VKhUTEMAS/VKhUTEIN in the faculties of furniture and interior design (1925–30) and architecture (1925–27). Worked on unrealised projects to design horizontal skyscrapers (1925), House of Textiles (1927) and the Pravda newspaper complex (1929). Visited Germany and Holland (1926), designed the Raum für konstruktive Kunst at the Internationale Kunstausstellung in Dresden (1926) and the Kabinett der Abstrakten at the Provinzialmuseum in Hanover (1927–28). Married German art historian and collector Sophie Schneider (1891–1978), widow of Paul Erich Küppers (1890–1922), director of the Kestnergesellschaft in Hanover (1927). Visited Cologne as head designer of the Soviet pavilion at the Internationale Presse-Ausstellung (1928). Member of October (1928). Birth of son Jen (1930). Published Russland: Architektur für eine Weltrevolution (1930). Designed the printing plant of Ogonyok magazine at 17 First Samotyochny Lane (1930–32) and worked on seventeen issues of USSR in Construction (1932–40). Spent time in hospital and at a sanatorium in the Caucasus (1935–36). Head decorator of the All-Union Exhibition of Agriculture in Moscow (1937–38), contributed to the Soviet pavilion at the New York World’s Fair (1939–40). Designed war posters (1941). Died of tuberculosis in the village of Skhodnya near Moscow (1941) and buried in the family grave at the Don Cemetery in Moscow (1948). Contributed to exhibitions (from 1916). Contributed to the exhibitions of the World of Art at the Nadezhda Dobychina Bureau d’Art in Petrograd (1917), Knave of Diamonds at the Claudia Mikhailova Art Salon in Moscow (1917, surname misspelt Lissetzky in the poster), UNOVIS exhibitions in Vitebsk (1920, 1921) and Moscow (1920, 1921), Die erste russische Kunstausstellung in the Galerie Van Diemen at 21 Unter den Linden in Berlin (1922), Die Große Berliner Kunstausstellung at the Landesausstellungsgebäude am Lehrter Bahnhof in Berlin (1923), Four Arts in Moscow (1926) and one-man shows at the Kestnergesellschaft in Hanover (1923), Berlin (1924), Dresden (1925), Vladimir Mayakovsky Museum in Moscow (1960), Akademgorodok in Novosibirsk (1967), Museum of Modern Art in Oxford (1977), Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst in Leipzig (1981), Sprengel Museum in Hanover (1988), Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow (1990), Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven (1990), Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1991) and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (1998–99).

Random articles