A Russian in Berlin:
“Synthetic Musician”

Iwan Puni (1892 – 1956)

Painting by Iwan Puni, oil on canvas, 145 x 98 cm
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

Oil painting of a musician against a pale blue background. His finely painted face is pensive. One half of the body breaks down into geometric shapes. The instrument in his arms is composed of fragments. It has strings, keys and several bodies.

Ivan Puni (1892–1956) arrived in Berlin in 1920. The city was a stepping stone on his escape from Soviet Russia before he made Paris his new home. In Russia Puni had organised major exhibitions of avant-garde art illustrating the transition from Cubism and Futurism to the radically non-figurative art of Suprematism. In Berlin too, he played an active part in the art scene. By 1921 he was already showing in Herwarth Walden’s gallery Der Sturm. He transformed the rooms into a total art work and had sandwich-board men in Cubist costumes walk up and down Kurfürstendamm.

His “Synthetic Musician” is composed of abstract blocks and figurative elements. With his oversized gaiters and little moustache, the figure bears some resemblance to Charlie Chaplin, the star of silent cinema. The painting was shown in the Novembergruppe’s section of the Great Berlin Art Exhibition of 1922, where it attracted considerable attention. Soon afterwards Puni took part in the legendary First Russian Art Exhibition at the Van Diemen Gallery, the first broad overview of Russian art to be staged for a Berlin audience.

Synthetic Musician
Oil on canvas
145 x 98 cm
Acquired with donations and funds from the Senate Department for Culture, Berlin, 1991

Discover more