Knave/Jack of Diamonds
Russian Artists Exhibition Group, Moscow

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Head of a Woman 'Medusa' (1923)
Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon.
By Alexei von Jawlensky, one of the
expatriate Russian exhibitors at the
first Moscow show of the artists
exhibition group known as the
Knave of Diamonds.

Knave/Jack of Diamonds Group (1910-17)


Moscow Art Exhibition Group
First Group Exhibition 1910
The Donkey's Tail Group
Later Knave of Diamonds Exhibitions

See: History of Art.

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Moscow Art Exhibition Group

In Russian art, the term "Knave of Diamonds", alternatively the "Jack of Diamonds" (in Russian: Bubnoviyi Valet), was an influential group established in Moscow in 1910 to hold exhibitions of avant-garde art from Europe and Russia. The group included some of the most important Russian artists in pre-Revolutionary Russia, including: Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964), his lifelong partner Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), Piotr Konchalovsky (1876-1956), Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935), Aristarkh Lentulov (1878-1943), Robert Falk (1886-1958), Ilya Mashkov (1884-1944), Alexander Kuprin (1880-1960), and the brothers David Burlyuk (1882-1967) and Vladimir Burlyuk (1886-1917). The name of the group was chosen to highlight their interest in popular graphic art and to signal their irreverence for tradition. All the artists were influenced by Western modern art as represented by modern art movements like Post-Impressionism (1880s, 1890s), Fauvism (1905-7) and Cubism (1908-14), all of which were well-known in Russia as a result of the activities of groups like World of Art (Mir iskusstva) (1898-1924), and the monthly art magazine Golden Fleece (c.1905-9). See also: 20th Century paintings (1900-2000).



First Group Exhibition 1910

The first show organized by the Knave of Diamonds, in December 1910 brought together painting and sculpture by modern artists from both Europe and Russia, including works by: Paris-based Cubists Henri Le Fauconnier (1881-1946), Andre Lhote (1885-1962), Albert Gleizes (1881-1953) and Jean Metzinger (1883-1956); Blaue Reiter Russian painters working in Munich, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941); as well as Russian artists working in Russia, mostly members of the Jack of Diamonds. The Russian artworks divided into two categories: (1) those marked by bright colours and simplified forms in the manner of Fauvism, by Falk, Konchalovsky, Lentulov, and Mashkov - who were dubbed the 'Cezannists'; and (2) Primitive works by Larionov, Goncharova and the Burlyuk brothers. This type of Russian Primitivism was a mixture of European traditions, Russian medieval painting and peasant woodcuts. [NOTE: Curiously, both styles were used in the theatrical sets for Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, designed by Leon Bakst (1866-1924) and Alexander Benois (1870-1960), that took Paris by storm in 1909.]

The Donkey's Tail Group

After the first Knave of Diamonds show, the Russian artists split into two camps: the Russian traditionalists, led by Larionov, and the more cosmopolitan remainder, led by David Burlyuk. The former, led by Larionov and Goncharova, accused the latter of being dominated by the cheap orientalism of the Ecole de Paris (Paris School), or the decadence of German Expressionism, after which, in 1911, the couple promptly founded the more radical Donkey's Tail group, devoted exclusively to Russian modernism, followed by the Target exhibition (1913), and No 4: Futurists, Rayonists, Primitives (1914). Meanwhile, the Jack of Diamonds association continued to operate as an exhibition society until 1917, promoting the European avant-garde.

Later Knave of Diamonds Exhibitions

The second and third shows of the Jack of Diamonds group, held in 1912 and 1913, and organized by the Burlyuks, included works from the Der Blaue Reiter group along with examples of Orphism by the French painter Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), as well as paintings by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), and Fernand Leger (1881-1955). Many of the Russian artists involved went on to develop a Cubo-Futurist style of painting, which - along with innovative work by Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953) and Lyubov Popova (1889-1924) - was showcased in subsequent shows during the period 1913-16. David Burlyuk's highly stimulating lectures and event management earned him the title of the 'Father of Russian Futurism.'


Works by 20th century painters associated with the Jack of Diamonds group can be seen in many of the world's best art museums, including: the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow; the State Russian Museum, St Petersburg; the Tate Gallery, London; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

More About Art in Russia
For more information, see these resources:
- Russian Painting 18th Century
- Russian Painting 19th Century

• For a chronological guide to the evolution of Russian painting, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For information about avant-garde painting and sculpture in Russia, see: Homepage.

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