The Avant-Gardists by Sjeng Scheijen – Thames & Hudson

Book Review: "The Avant-Gardists" by Sjeng Scheijen

In his book “The Avant-Gardists,” Sjeng Scheijen delves deeply into the tumultuous artistic revolution in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1935. Through meticulous research and vivid storytelling, Scheijen traces the lives and endeavours of key figures like Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and others who spearheaded a radical transformation in the art world.

Set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution, Scheijen paints a vivid picture of the avant-garde movement’s rise and eventual clash with the Soviet regime. Their groundbreaking murals and installations, coupled with their philosophical and political subversion, challenged societal norms and pushed the boundaries of artistic expression, leaving a lasting impact that can still be felt today.

However, as the political landscape shifted, so did the fate of these revolutionary artists. Scheijen expertly navigates through the complexities of their struggles under Stalin’s regime, including repression, incarceration, and torture. Through excerpts from diaries and correspondence, he offers a poignant glimpse into the avant-gardists’ unwavering determination to defy totalitarianism and preserve their artistic vision amidst adversity.

Drawing on extensive archival findings and personal accounts, Scheijen delivers a compelling narrative that tells the story of these revolutionary artists and sheds light on a pivotal period in art history. His authoritative voice and dynamic storytelling make “The Avant-Gardists” not just a book but a key resource for anyone interested in the intersection of art and politics during a time of radical change, emphasizing its relevance and significance.

Praise for the book comes from Natalia Murray of the Courtauld Institute, curator of “Revolution” at the RA, London, who hails it as “definitely the best overview of the Russian avant-garde.” With its blend of scholarship and narrative flair, Scheijen’s work is a testament to the enduring legacy of these pioneering artists who reshaped the modern art landscape.

Sjeng Scheijen is an author and expert on Russian art, known for his insightful exhibitions and cultural contributions. His previous book, “Diaghilev: A Life,” received widespread acclaim for its masterful portrayal of the influential impresario. With “The Avant-Gardists,” Scheijen once again proves his ability to illuminate complex historical moments with clarity and depth.

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