The Avant-Gardists Artists in Revolt in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union 1917-1935

Sjeng Scheijen

A fascinating narrative biography of the Russian avant-garde art movement that transformed the modern world, tracing the lives and activities of the key protagonists as they set about a revolution in art.

October 1917. The Russian Revolution wipes the old tsarist empire off the map. Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Lyubov Popova, Alexander Rodchenko, Olga Rozanova, Vladimir Tatlin, and other avant-garde artists participate in the revolutionary struggle, transforming inner cities with their progressive murals, posters, installations, and performances. The new political leaders soon want nothing to do with these radical artists. While their reputation is growing in Europe, they experience increasing pressure in the Soviet Union.

Against a background of violent social and political change, Sjeng Scheijen describes with compassion and humor the events that shaped the artistic revolution in The Avant-Gardists, the first illustrated biography to relate the rise and fall of the leading figures of the Russian avant-garde. From philosophical and political subversion, involvement with the Bolshevik administration, and links with Europe to violent repression, incarcerations, and torture in the 1930s under Stalin, events are narrated through artists’ personal memories, drawn from existing and important new archival findings. Excerpts from diaries and correspondence reveal the extent of the avant-garde’s energy and determination to survive a totalitarian regime, civil war, hunger, and terror.

Scheijen’s vivid, dynamic style; authoritative command of his source material; and extensive original research provide exceptional insight into the lives of these avant-gardists, whose art transformed modern art.


An overwhelming reading experience. Scheijen is an inspired writer …The Avant-Gardists is a superb book.

— Pieter Waterdrinker de Telegraaf


Sjeng Scheijen


Sjeng Scheijen is a Dutch author and an internationally acclaimed expert on Russian art. He has curated several important exhibitions in London, Groeningen, and elsewhere. He is the former cultural attaché to the Netherlands Embassy in Moscow. His previous book, Diaghilev: A Life, received much critical acclaim, being described as “masterful” by The Guardian and “magnificent” by the Daily Mail.