Knave of Diamonds

In December 1910, a group of artists held an exhibition in Moscow with the strange sounding name of the Knave of Diamonds (???????? ?????). The name was deliberately intended by one of the organisers, Mikhail Larionov, to contrast the Romantic and Symbolist titles of such other shows of those years as Blue Rose and Wreath/Stephanos. In Russian, “knave of diamonds” not only referred to one of the cards in a pack; it also implied someone untrustworthy, a rogue or swindler. So the title of the exhibition - and, from 1911, the name of the group - reflected their ironic and outrageous approach to traditional forms of art. The members of the Knave of Diamonds were most active in the early 1910s. Their creed was to restore to art the primordial spontaneity and “wildness” of the folk masters. Simple motifs, simplified forms and active colour are all encountered, one way or another, in the portraits, landscapes and still-lifes of Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Ilya Mashkov, Pyotr Konchalovsky, Robert Falk and Aristarkh Lentulov.

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