Western Art – Neo-Primitivism – A Contemporary Edge to Primitvism

Neo-Primitivism – The History

After Russian painter and art theorist Aleksandr Shevchenko published his book ‘Neo-Primitivism’ in 1913, a completely new genre in art was formed with the same name. However, other accounts suggest vice-versa. According to them, Neo-Primitivism began much earlier, with its official launching in 1909, at the third ‘Golden Fleece Exhibition.’ The art form is said to span over 1907 through 1912. Although, it was primarily a Russian art movement, it became equally popular in the Western nations. Neo-Primitivism was fundamentally a radical modern sect with primitive style executions and therefore, named so.

The Details

The characteristics of Folk Art, like lubok, embroideries, distaffs, icon painting, and spoons, formed the basis of Neo-Primitive works. The frames were usually one-dimensional, flat imageries with bold color schemes, and visible brushstrokes. The paintings lacked, not only in visual depth, but also in their intricate or visionary representations. The Neo-Primitive works often look like child-art, with the distortions of forms and space.

The Artists

Russian artists Aleksandr Shevchenko’s (1883-1948) publication describes a harmonization of Russian Folk Art with some different art forms, like Futurism and Cubism. French Post-Impressionist and Cubist Paul Cézanne’s (1839-1906) body of work was also a great influence on the underlying philosophy of Neo-Primitivism. The original protagonists of this style were Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964) and Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), though they were not the only ones. Other famous artists associated with the movement were Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935), Vladmir Tatlin (1885-1943), and Marc Chagall (Russian-French, 1887-1985).

The Artworks

Mikhail Larionov’s, ‘Soldier in the Woods’ (1908-09) is a perfect example of Neo-Primitive elements, where a brightly painted canvas in primary colors, depicts a horse smaller than the soldier is. Similarly, Natalia Goncharova’s ‘The Evangelists,’ (1910), is a set of four, oil on canvas works, 204 cm X 58 cm in dimensions each. This religious work is a leading example of icon painting, which depicts the four authors of the Gospels. The set is remarkable for its straight-forwardness, simplicity, linearity, and colors, in each piece.


An exhibition in Paris, featuring the native art forms of Australia, Oceania, and Africa, popularized Neo-Primitivism in the Western world. The directness of themes, bold expressiveness, striking color combinations, vigor, spontaneity, and innovation, caught the fancy of the Western artists in no time. Neo-Primitivism, in the Western world, has come as a blanket term for various types of art, including ‘Body Art.’ In broader terms, any art, which subscribes to the philosophy of Primitivism, represented with a modern outlook is Neo-Primitivism. Primitivism suggests that the life was more simple and honest for the ‘unschooled’ primitive civilizations!