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Coloured Universe and the Russian Avant-Garde: Matiushin on Colour Vision in Stalin's Russia, 1932
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Art History.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8021-8381
2003 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Colour vision was of fundamental importance in modernist art. One reason its significance has been studied so little with regard to Russian art is that Soviet archives were inaccessible until the early 1990s. This work is the first close study on a so-called laboratory in an art- and science institute in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. It is based on extensive research in twenty different Russian archives, each including numerous archival funds, in addition to the Stedelijk Museum Prentenkabinet in Amsterdam and other unpublished material.

Contemporary ideas from German Bauhaus and De Stijl in Holland have received deserved attention. In the Soviet Union, avant-garde artists were silenced as enemies of the people – their priorities were other than the class struggle.

The implicit narrative of the book, is about a group of intellectuals who struggled to work with what they believed in, e.g. an expansion and change of innate possibilities to create something never seen before, despite political oppression.

The aim of this study is to present and analyse the hitherto unknown colour theory of Mikhail Matiushin (1866–1934) published in Leningrad and Moscow in 1932.

The work is divided into five parts. The first part, Colour, deals with the contexts of history, colour and art. During the 1920s a number of institutes for interdisciplinary scientific research in art, design and architecture were founded in the Soviet Union. One of them was the Institute of Artistic Culture in Leningrad – GINKhUK – where Malevich and Tatlin also worked. One goal was to formulate a universal language with mathematics as the ideal science, to be collected into an encyclopaedia for visual culture (art, architecture, design); another goal was to redesign the world for the masses outside the ‘dead’ museums, and to produce a new kind of human being, a third goal. There the artist, musician and theoretician Mikhail Matiushin supervised the Department of Organic Culture with his Laboratory of Colour.

The second part, Vision, analyses Matiushin's training programme, a variant of synaesthetical union of the senses, which includes an extension of the visual angle to a complete 360°; i.e., the consciously amplified eye, defined in Matiushin’s peculiar way.

The third part, Culture, compares Matiushin with the theosophist mystics Pëtr Uspenskii and C. H. Hinton, the painter Wassily Kandinsky and the philosopher Henri Bergson.

Part four, Ideology, sheds light on colour from those whose perspective was based on the State philosophy of dialectical materialism. By the early 1930s, the innovative institutes were closed down due to centralization of all expressions of culture under the banner of Socialist Realism.

The last part, Synthesis, provides a detailed discussion on what happened after the 1930s. It concludes with the colour theory text, both its Russian original and for the first time in English translation.

The belief is that Matiushin’s colour theory was not given any consideration after its publication in 1932. The results of this study show, however, that his colour handbook has been and still is used in the colour design of St. Petersburg.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of the History of Art, Sweden , 2003. , 406 p.
Eidos: Skrifter från konstvetenskapliga institutionen vid Stockholms universitet, ISSN 1650-5298 ; 10
Keyword [en]
Colour vision, Russian avant-garde, Mikhail Matiushin, Elena Guro, Ender siblings, art, science, laboratory observations, colour practices, colour theory, synaesthesia, dialectical materialism, Stalin, culture, universal language, architecture, design
National Category
Art History Design
Research subject
Art History
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-8410ISBN: 91-7265-683-2OAI: diva2:200230
Public defence
2003-06-05, hörsal 8, hus D, Universitetsvägen 10, Stockholm, 13:00
Available from: 2008-12-19 Created: 2008-12-19 Last updated: 2015-12-11Bibliographically approved

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