KNAVE OF DIAMONDS
International Chamber of Russian Modernism
Knave of Diamonds
Brief History
The Knave of Diamonds (or Jack of Diamonds) – Bubnovii valet – began as an exhibition organised by Aristarkh Lentulov, Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov in December 1910.

It was formally founded in October 1911 as the Knave of Diamonds Society of Artists by P. Konchalovsky, Ilya Mashkov, Vasily Rozhdestvensky, and Alexander Kuprin. In the Statutes it was written that: "The aim of the Knave of Diamonds Society of Artists is to spread modern concepts on questions of the fine arts. The area of activities is the city of Moscow." The registered address was the studio shared by Konchalovsky and Mashkov.

At a general meeting on 12 November the society elected a board with Piotr Konchalovsky as chairman, Ilya Mashkov as secretary and Alexander Kuprin as treasurer.

The founding members were Piotr Konchalovsky, Alexander Kuprin, Ilya Mashkov and Vasily Rozdestvensky. The inspection commission was made up of Robert Falk, Adolf Milman and V. Savinkov. The full members were Robert Falk, Vasily Kandinsky, Piotr Konchalovsky, Alexander Kuprin, Aristarkh Lentulov, Ilya Mashkov, Vasily Rozhdestvensky, A. Samoilova and Zherebtsova. The honorary members were Sergei Shchukin, Ivan Morozov, Prince Sergei Schebatov, S. A. Poliakov and S. A. Lobachev. The associate members were Valeri Briusov, Count Nikolai Tolstoy and the composer Thomas von Hartmann. The exhibitors included David Burliuk, Vladimir Burliuk and Nikolai Kulbin.

From the outset there were disputes with Larionov and Goncharova, who in April 1911 created the group of Neo-Primitivist painters, Donkey's Tail, which included Mikhail Le Dantiu, Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Shevchenko, Kiril Zdanevich, and Maurice Fabbri. Their aim was a modern painting that was truly Russian, not one that relied on the European styles of Cézannism, Fauvism, Orphism and Cubism that characterised the work of the Knave of Diamonds painters. A definitive split between the two groups was declared in the autumn of 1911, although artists from both groups continued to exhibit together in World of Art exhibitions.

In their exhibition of January–February of 1912, the St. Petersburg group, Union of Youth, had invited the Donkey's Tail painters to take part. In the summer, Union of Youth members, Mikhail Matiushin and Olga Rozanova, invited the Knave of Diamonds artists to show with them in St. Petersburg, which they did a year later, in April 1913.

Mikhail Larionov continued to organise exhibitions, including Target (24 March–8 April 1913), No. 4 (23 March–23 April 1914), and 1915 (23 March–26 April, 1915). In the latter, several Knave of Diamonds painters showed including Robert Falk, Piotr Konchalovsky, Alexander Kuprin, Aristarkh Lentulov, Ilya Mashkov. In addition there were the Burliuk brothers, Marc Chagall, Malevich, Aleksei Morgunov, Vladimir Tatlin and Sofia Tolstaya.

Konchalovsky and Mashkov left the Knave of Diamonds in March 1916 to join the World of Art, while at the meeting of 14/27 October, 1917, a number of new artists became members including Lev Bruni, Alexander Osmerkin, Liubov Popova, Vladimir Tatlin, and Nadezhda Udaltsova; Kazimir Malevich was elected chairman. At the meeting, Tatlin proposed renaming the exhibition because there would be a preponderance of new, non-objective art. This was rejected by ballot and he, together with Popova, Udaltsova, and Bruni, resigned and did not exhibit. In this show there was only a small core of truly modern painters, with Alexandra Exter being given a room in which to hold a kind of min-retrospective of over 60 paintings, "1907-1917".

The 1917 exhibition of the Knave of Diamonds was, effectively, its last.
{The dates are old style, according to the Gregorian calendar, until 1917.)
Catalogue 1910 1910
Knave of Diamonds 1
10 December 1910 – 16 January 1911
Levinson house, Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, Moscow

"The initiators of the Knave of Diamonds exhibition are the artists Aristarkh Lentulov, Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, supported by a young patron, S. A. Lobachev, who has provided the necessary funds to implement their scheme. Besides the propaganda of the 'new art', the organisers pursue another goal – to offer young Russian artists who find it extremely difficult to get accepted for exhibitions under the existing indolence and cliquishness of our artistic spheres, the chance to get onto the main road. The organisers regard the title Knave of Diamonds as a symbol of young enthusiasm and passion,
'for the knave implies youth and the suit of diamonds represents seething blood.'
"V mire iskusstvo i literatury", Donkey's Tail, 8 October 1910.
Invited to join the Russian painters were the Expressionists from the Munich, Neue Kunstlerverinigung
Exhibitors: V. S. Bart, David Burliuk, Vladimir Burliuk, Alexandra Exter, Robert Falk, Fonvizen, Natalia Goncharova, Piotr Konchalovsky, Alexander Kuprin, Mikhail Larionov,
Aristarkh Lentulov, Kazimir Malevich, Ilya Mashkov, Aleksei Morgunov.
Munich group of artists: Erbsloh, Alexei von Jawlensky, Vasily Kandinsky, A. Konoldt
Gabriele Munter, Marianne von Werefkin.
Parisian Cubists: Henri Le Fauconnier, Albert Gleizes.
1911
No exhibition.
1912
Knave of Diamonds 2
23 (or 25) January – 26 February
Moscow Military District Economic Society of Officers, 10 Vozdvizhenko, Moscow

Organised by Robert Falk, Piotr Konchalovsky and Aristarkh Lentulov.
Contributing are Russian Cézannists and Cubists, Parisian Cubists, and
German Expressionists.
Exhibitors: David Burliuk, Vladimir Burliuk, Alexandra Exter, Robert Falk, A. Grishchenko,
Piotr Konchalovsky, Alfred Kubin, Alexander Kuprin, Aristarkh Lentulov, Ilya Mashkov.
Members of The Blue Rider: Vasily Kandinsky, Auguste Macke,
Franz Marc, Gabriele Munter, Erich Heckel, Ernst Kirchner, Otto Mueller, Max Pechstein.
French Cubists and Fauves: Camoin, Robert Delaunay, André Derain, Albert Gleizes,
Fernand Léger, Henri Le Fauconnier, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Kees van Dongen.

12 February – First Knave of Diamonds Debate, Polytechnic Museum, Moscow
Papers: Nikolai Kulbin, "New Free Art as the Basis of Life"
David Burliuk, "On Cubism and Other Movements in Painting"

25 February – Second Knave of Diamonds Debate, Polytechnic Museum, Moscow
Papers: Maximilian Voloshin, "Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin as Forerunners of Cubism"
David Burliuk, "The Evolution of the Concept of Beauty in Painting (Cubism)"
Advertising Poster
Poster advertising the Exhibition of Paintings Knave of Diamonds
1913
Knave of Diamonds 3
7 February – 7 March
Levinson house, Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, Moscow
3 – 28 April
St. Petersburg

Exhibitors: David Burliuk, Vladimir Burliuk, Alexandra Exter, Robert Falk, A. Grishchenko, Piotr Konchalovsky, Alexander Kuprin, Aristarkh Lentulov, Ilya Mashkov,
Aldolf Milman, Aleksei Morgunov, Vasily Rozhdestvensky, Vladimir Tatlin, Count Tolstoy. Georges Braque,
André Derain, Henri Le Fauconnier, Albert Gleizes,
Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Paul Signac,
Maurice de Vlaminck
12 February – First Knave of Diamonds Debate, Polytechnic Museum, Moscow.
Chaired by Georgii Yakulov.
Papers on "The Slashing of Ilya Repin's, Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan"
Maximilian Voloshin, "The Artistic Value of Repin's Slashed Painting"

24 February - Second Knave of Diamonds Debate, Polytechnic Museum, Moscow
Speakers: P. Konchalovsky, Ivan Aksionov, "On Modern Art" (read by V. V. Savinkov),
David Burliuk, "The New Art in Russia and the Attitude of Critics to It."

February – Collection of Essays on Art No. 1, Moscow
I. Aksionov, "On the Problem of the Contemporary State of Russian Painting"
Henri Le Fauconnier, "Modern Sensibility and the Painting"
Guillaume Apollinaire, "Fernand Léger"

1914
Knave of Diamonds 4
5 February – 2 March
Society of Lovers of Art, Moscow

Exhibitors: Alexandra Exter, Robert Falk, Piotr Konchalovsky, Alexander Kuprin,
Aristarkh Lentulov, Kazimir Malevich, Ilya Mashkov, Adolf Milman, Aleksei Morgunov,
Liubov Popova, Vasily Rozhdestvensky, Antonina Sofronova. Nadezhda Udaltsova.
Georges Braque, André Derain, Henri Le Fauconnier, Pablo Picasso, Maurice de Vlaminck.

19 February – First Public Debate, Polytechnic Museum, Moscow.
G. Denike (Yuriev), "The Public's Attitude Towards Art"
"The public debate at the Polytechnic Museum was an incessant scandal. The introduction was read by someone called Denike who spent a long time expounding his views on art. At the end of his speech, two Futurists got up onto the stage with wooden spoons sewn to their jackets. They were jeered by the crowd. The educated art critic, Jacob Tugenhold, then read an entire article on the essence of Futurism. The lecture was given a rough reception. A real scandal broke out when the 'Yaroslavl lads' reappeared on the stage. One of them (Morgunov) was cut off by the chairman, Konchalovsky, when he said: "Tugenhold's lecture was so educated, long and stupid that it even gave me a bellyache.
Tugenhold is such an idiot ...'".
In a letter to Olga Rozanova of 21 February Kazimir Malevich wrote:
"Yesterday I appeared at the Knave of Diamonds debate and had great success....
We destroyed the Knave of Diamonds, nothing is left of Tugenhold, nothing but his gloves."

1915
Artists of Moscow for Victims of the War
6 December – 18 January 1916

The Knave of Diamonds group took part in a large exhibition of over 600 paintings
whose aim was to raise money for victims of the War.
Catalogue 1916
Catalogue, 1916



1916
Knave of Diamonds 5
6 November – 19 December
Kira Mikhailova Art Salon, Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, Moscow

Exhibitors: Natan Altman, David Burliuk, Vladimir Burliuk, Marc Chagall, Alexandra Exter, Robert Falk, Ivan Kliun, Alexander Kuprin, Kuznetsov, Aristarkh Lentulov, Kazimir Malevich, Liubov Popova, Ivan Puni, Olga Rozanova and Nadezhda Udaltsova.

Catalogue, 1916
1917
Knave of Diamonds 6
21 November to 3 December
Kira Mikhailova Art Salon, Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, Moscow

Exhibitors: A. A. Barchinkov, David Burliuk, Davydova, Alexandra Exter, Vasily Kamensky, Nikolai Kuznestov, Ivan Kliun, Y. Kholemberg-Kron, E. Kron, M. Leblan,
Kazimir Malevich, Olga Rozanova, Valentina Khodasevich,
Mikhail Menkov, D. V. Petrovskii, A. Gumilina, Shiman.
"The Knave of Diamonds exhibition... like a good old-fashioned granny's blanket, was made up of small parts. One large part consisted of canvases clearly intended to fill the walls... The second part was made up of the remnants of the Knave of Diamonds with David Burliuk in the centre... The third part of the Knave of Diamonds was the collection of [67] works by Alexandra Exter. This was the most attractive part of the exhibition. An artist of great temperament, a genuine painter and one of the cleverest and most consistent Cubists, not a student but a master of this movement, Exter shows her true colours at the Knave of Diamonds exhibition. The last part of the exhibition consists of the group of Suprematists – Malevich, Kliun, Puni, Rozanova, Davydova and so forth. 'Geometry in paints' thrives here. Just like last year we have the same parallelograms, circles and triangles, painted different colours and standing in spatial relationships to one another. The inventiveness is few and far between, the result of far-from-ingenious quests for the old alchemical stone – the notorious 'pure painterliness'."
(Abram Efros, "Letters from Moscow", Apollon, Nos. 8-10, pp. 109-111)
World of Art
December
Art Salon, 11 Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, Moscow

The art critic, Abram Efros, wrote in his "Letters from Moscow":
"The internal distribution of certain artistic groups according to exhibitions is extremely interesting. Such a typically Moscow creation as the Knave of Diamonds group, those exaggerated colourists and painters, have taken a momentous step. Both the fathers and the sons – Konchalovsky, Mashkov, Lentulov, Falk, Kuprin, Rozhdestvensky, Milman and others – have migrated en bloc to the World of Art. The Knave of Diamonds is now a shell without the corresponding content, filling the empty space with the most diverse jumble... Yet it has been no easier for the World of Art. The former knaves of diamonds are both in quantity and aesthetically the most compact and 'generalist' group. The flexibility, elasticity, adaptability and unprincipledness of the current World of Art – call this attribute what you like – has thus reached Herculean proportions. Yet as Benois himself once defined the aims of the World of Art as being an eclectic bazaar of talents, perhaps what is happening is extremely desirable and a form of transfusion of fresh blood into decrepit veins."
(In Apollon, Nos. 8-10 pp. 109-111)


Compiled by Patricia Railing
SOURCES
G. G. Pospelov, Bubnovii Valet / Knave of Diamonds, Moscow, 1990.
State Russian Museum, State Tretiakov Gallery, Ekaterina Cultural Foundation, The Knave of Diamonds in the Russian Avant-Garde. St. Petersburg: Palace Editions, 2004.
Benedikt Livshits, The One and a Half-Eyed Archer (1931). Translated by John E. Bowlt. Newtonville, Mass: Oriental Research Partners, 1977, pages 69-96.
 

 

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