Kazimir Malevich was born Kazimierz Malewicz to a Polish family, who settled near Kyiv in Kiev Governorate of the Russian Empire during the partitions of Poland. His parents, Ludwika and Seweryn Malewicz, were Roman Catholic like most ethnic Poles, though his father attended Orthodox services as well. They both had fled from the former eastern territories of the Commonwealth (present-day Kopyl Region of Belarus) to Kyiv in the aftermath of the failed Polish January Uprising of 1863 against the tsarist army. His native language was Polish, but he also spoke Russian, as well as Ukrainian due to his childhood surroundings.Malevich would later write a series of articles in Ukrainian about art.
Kazimir’s father managed a sugar factory. Kazimir was the first of fourteen children, only nine of whom survived into adulthood. His family moved often and he spent most of his childhood in the villages of modern-day Ukraine, amidst sugar-beet plantations, far from centers of culture. Until age twelve, he knew nothing of professional artists, although art had surrounded him in childhood. He delighted in peasant embroidery, and in decorated walls and stoves. He was able to paint in the peasant style. He studied drawing in Kyiv from 1895 to 1896.
Malevich’s life inspires many references featuring events and the paintings as players. The smuggling of Malevich paintings out of Russia is a key to the plot line of writer Martin Cruz Smith’s thriller Red Square. Noah Charney’s novel, The Art Thief tells the story of two stolen Malevich White on White paintings, and discusses the implications of Malevich’s radical Suprematist compositions on the art world. British artist Keith Coventry has used Malevich’s paintings to make comments on modernism, in particular his Estate Paintings. Malevich’s work also is featured prominently in the Lars von Trier film, Melancholia. At the Closing Ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Malevich visual themes were featured (via projections) in a section on 20th century Russian modern art.