© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

While other constructivist artists in postrevolutionary Russia abandoned easel painting in favor of utilitarian forms such as photography, film, and graphic design that were believed to more easily serve the new state, Lissitzky asserted painting’s important role in advancing creative and spiritual life. His compositions, which he named Prouns (an acronym for the Russian phrase “project for the affirmation of the new”), broke with traditional painterly conventions, and fed “on the ground fertilized by the dead bodies of pictures and their painters.” Proun 12E is typical of Lissitzky’s new pictorial language. A wide band extends across the width of the canvas, anchoring a variety of geometric forms that hover above, defying laws of gravity and perspectival logic. The floating construction that hinges on a red sphere seems to project into space instead of receding into it, as it would in traditional painting. Prouns provided the springboard for Lissitzky’s later artistic activities in diverse fields such as typography and architecture.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
El Lissitzky, Russian (Pochinok, Russia 1890 - 1941 Moscow, Russia)
Proun 12E
Work Type
Level 1, Room 1520, Modern and Contemporary Art, Art in Germany Between the Wars
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
57.2 x 42.5 cm (22 1/2 x 16 3/4 in.)
framed: 62 x 46.5 x 4.3 cm (24 7/16 x 18 5/16 x 1 11/16 in.)
Kurt Feldhäusser, Berlin, bequest; to Marie Luise Feldhäusser, 1945, sold; [E. Weyhe Gallery, New York], sold; to Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1949.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Association Fund
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
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Publication History

Charles Werner Haxthausen, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University, Abbeville Press (New York, NY, 1980), p. 26, repr.

Caroline A. Jones, Modern Art at Harvard: The Formation of the Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums (New York, NY and Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press, 1985). With an essay by John Coolidge and a preface by John M. Rosenfield. To accompany the inaugural exhibition at the Sackler Museum, Oct 21 1985 - Jan 5 1986, p. 105, fig. 100, ill. (color)

Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), no. 377, p. 315, repr.

Peter Nisbet and Emilie Norris, Busch-Reisinger Museum: History and Holdings, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1991), p. 65, ill.

Günther Regel, Moderne Kunst: Zugänge zu ihrem Verständnis, Ernst Klett Schulbuchverlag Leipzig GmbH (Leipzig, Germany, 2001), p. 141, color illus.

Peter Nisbet and Joseph Koerner, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, ed. Peter Nisbet, Harvard University Art Museums and Scala Publishers Ltd. (Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2007), p. 126

Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), p. 199, ill.

Matthew Jesse Jackson, The Experimental Group: Ilya Kabakov, Moscow Conceptualism, Soviet Avant-Gardes, University of Chicago Press (Chicago and London, 2010), pp. 60-62, ill. (color)

Exhibition History

From Werkbund to Bauhaus: Art and Design in Germany 1900-1934, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge

20th-Century Works on Paper from the Permanent Collection, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 09/07/1981 - 11/11/1981

Deutsche Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts aus dem Busch-Reisinger Museum, Stadtische Galerie im Stadelschen Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, 10/23/1982 - 01/16/1983; Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin 30, 02/10/1983 - 04/17/1983; Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, 05/08/1983 - 06/26/1983

Re-View: S118 European & American Art since 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 09/13/2008 - 04/09/2011

Re-View: European and American Art Since 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/03/2011 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 1520 Art in Germany Between the Wars (Interwar and Bauhaus), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014 - 08/03/2017; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/01/2018 - 12/17/2018

What about Revolution? Aesthetic Practices after 1917, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/26/2017 - 01/07/2018

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu