Ouspensky Four-Dimensional Super Man

Leonardo Russian 'Rayism', the Work and Theory of Mikhail Larionov and Natalya Goncharova 1912- 1914: Ouspensky's Four-Dimensional Super Race? Author(s): Anthony Parton Source: Leonardo, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Autumn, 1983), pp. 298-305 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1574956 . Accessed: 06/11/2013 19:21 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]. . The MIT Press and Leonardo are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Leonardo. http://www.jstor.org This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Nov 2013 19:21:52 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Transcript of Ouspensky Four-Dimensional Super Man

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Russian 'Rayism', the Work and Theory of Mikhail Larionov and Natalya Goncharova 1912-1914: Ouspensky's Four-Dimensional Super Race?Author(s): Anthony PartonSource: Leonardo, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Autumn, 1983), pp. 298-305Published by: The MIT PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1574956 .

Accessed: 06/11/2013 19:21

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].


The MIT Press and Leonardo are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access toLeonardo.


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Leonardo, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 298-305, 1983. Printed in Great Britain.

0024-094X/83 $3.00 + 0.00 Pergamon Press Ltd.


Anthony Parton* Abstract - Anthony Parton examines the relationship between popular early twentieth century ideas concerning the fourth dimension of space and the rayism of Larionov and Goncharova.

A brief historical survey presents some basic ideas of Hinton and Ouspensky, two leading fourth dimension theorists. The author discusses the role of the fourth dimension in the theory and practice of 'rayism', drawing analogies between rayism and the techniques of Larionov and Hinton and suggesting that abstract 'pneumo-rayist' paintings are representations offour-dimensional spatialforms. Goncharova's work and mysticism are discussed with reference to Ouspensky. Finally the pictorial device of transparency and rayist manifesto statements are related to Ouspensky's notion of a four-dimensional superman.

The conclusion suggests that a causal relationship existed between theories of the fourth dimension and the development of abstraction in Larionov and Goncharova's art from 1912 to 1914.


A relationship seems to have existed between Russian rayism [1], one of the first abstract movements in European art during the early twentieth century, and the theories of Charles Howard Hinton (1853-1907) and Petr Demyanovich Ouspensky (1878- 1947) concerning a fourth dimension of space. My hypothesis is that artists Mikhail Fedorovich Larionov (1881-1964) and Natalya Sergeevna Goncharova (1881-1962) gave visual ex- pression to ideas of the fourth dimension in their art. The nature of this expression was one of the elements that led them to total abstraction by 1914.

The fourth dimension of space is not to be confused with our present understanding of the fourth dimension as time. Linda D. Henderson, in her 1971 Art Quarterly article [2] and her 1975 Ph.D. dissertation [3], showed that references to the fourth dimension in the literature of the French Cubists do not refer to the relativity theory of Albert Einstein and Hermann Minkowski, as Paul Laporte argued in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism in 1949 [4].

Having dismissed relativity theory, Henderson looked for the meaning of the term 'the fourth dimension' in popular contemporary theories of a fourth spatial dimension, assumed to be at right angles to each of our three mutually perpendicular dimensions. Theories of the fourth dimension of space were propagated particularly by Charles Howard Hinton. From 1880 to 1914 they found expression in literary forms ranging from scholarly scientific expositions to popular treatment of the subject in science fiction, popular philosophy, and even spiritualist and theosophist writings.

Hinton's most influential works were A New Era of Thought (1888) [5] and The Fourth Dimension (1904) [6]. In a simple and nonmathematical way, he conveyed the essential notions used in conceiving a fourth dimension of space. Hinton frequently used analogy to generate the simplest, four-dimensional solid, known as a 'hypercube' or 'tesseract', from a three-dimensional cube [cf. Leonardo 13, 310 (1980) and 14, 60(1981), terms 1042-1045]. He

*Art historian, 148 Hilda Park, Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham DH2 2JY, U.K. (Received 7 September 1982)

attempted to educate his audience's 'space sense' by meditation upon the 'tesseract.' Through this complicated system of mentally reconstructing the various three-dimensional cubic sections of a 'hypercube' as it passed perpendicularly through our space Hinton would guide readers to actually perceive the mechanics of four-dimensional space.

Hinton's work with the fourth dimension led him to speculate about its repercussions on human life. Henderson terms this element of Hinton's work "hyperspace philosophy". Hinton argued that we must be four-dimensional beings; otherwise we would be unable to conceive of a fourth dimension. However, our consciousness is trapped within three dimensions, so that we can perceive only a three-dimensional section of our four-dimensional selves, and the three- dimensional world becomes one of appearances alone. The hyperspace philosophies of Petr Demyanovich Ouspensky in Russia and Claude Bragdon (architect and author, active 1898-1942) in America began on this basis.

In America the work of Hinton was widely discussed. In 1909 the Scientific American organized an essay contest for the best popular explanation of the term "the fourth dimension". The best essays were edited by H. P. Manning [7] in a volume that demonstrated the influence of Hinton's thought in America, especially on Bragdon, one of the essayists who went on to publish a theosophical view of the fourth dimension in Man the Square, 1912 [8] and A Primer of Higher Space, 1913 [9].

Ouspensky remained largely uninfluenced by theosophy. By profession a writer, Ouspensky was primarily a mystic "in search of the miraculous". During 1908-1909 Ouspensky travelled in the East, returned home to see the publication of his own book, The Fourth Dimension, in St Petersburg in November 1909 [10, 11], and began work on Tertium Organum: The Third Canon of Thought: A Key to the Enigmas of the World, which appeared in print in St Petersburg in October 1911 [12]. His essay, Superman, was published with an essay on Archybaev in The Inner Circle (1913) [13], before Ouspensky undertook another trip to the East (1913-14) to find a guru to tutor him. It was not until after he returned to Moscow in 1915 that he met the 'miraculous' in the person of George I. Gurdjieff (1877- 1949), whom he followed until 1924. In The Fourth Dimension [10] Ouspensky briefly discussed the work of Hinton and of


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Russian scientist and author N.A. Morozov before stating some of his own ideas on the subject, such as symmetry in nature being an evidence of the fourth dimension. Tertium Organum, however, marked a new development in Ouspensky's thought. The book's philosophical basis was Hinton's belief that we are really four-dimensional beings with our consciousness trapped in three dimensions. Tertium Organum [12] stated that an expansion of our consciousness into the fourth dimension is possible by cultivating "intuition", which is "the fourth unit of psychic life". Only by developing our consciousness in this way will we become aware of our true four-dimensional reality and be able to understand the present enigmas of the three- dimensional world and its phenomena: space, time, matter, and motion.

Ouspensky equated this new four-dimensional state of consciousness with Dr Richard M. Bicke's Cosmic Con- sciousness [14]. In Ouspensky's system, our phenomenal world is an unreal three-dimensional section of the noumenal world of four dimensions. The transition from three-dimensional con- sciousness to four-dimensional "cosmic consciousness" is the achievement of a "superman", the subject of his 1913 essay [13]. In this essay he set out the necessary stages of development of man's will, emotions, and intellect, that are necessary to attain "cosmic consciousness". However, Ouspensky warned that on expansion of consciousness, man "will sense a precipice, an abyss everywhere, no matter where he looks, and experience indeed an incredible horror, fear, and sadness, until this fear and sadness shall transform themselves into the joy of the sensing of a new reality" [12, p. 219]. To prepare for this new order in the fourth dimension, where phenomena and spatial relationships are significantly different from those in our three-dimensional world, we have to learn a third canon of thought [15], a new system of logic that expresses the nature of the four-dimensional reality:

" 'A' is both 'A' and not 'A'. Everything is both 'A' and not 'A'. Everything is all." [12, p. 236] [16].

Ouspensky's books were on sale as early as 1909 and shortly after were available in public libraries [17]. English copies of Hinton's The Fourth Dimension (1904) [6] and Bragdon's Man the Square (1912) [8] appeared in Russia shortly after their publication, while many popular and scientific works in Russian on the fourth dimension were readily available. N. A. Morozov published at least one article on the subject by 1908, while the mathematicians of the period published on themes ranging from M. M. Philipov's Lobachevsky's Geometry and Space of Many Dimensions (1894) to M. A. Tichomandricky's 1906 book, Differential Geometry of Space of 'N' Dimensions, to B. Lebedev's, Curves and Surfaces of the Fourth, Fifth, etc. Dimensions (1908) [18].


What had this work to do with Larionov and Goncharova? First, it was an interesting and available nexus of ideas concerning the nature of life, which Larionov, in his Why We Paint Ourselves manifesto, [19] declared he would reorganize through the medium of his art.

Second, Ouspensky had assigned a significant role to the artist. He claimed that flashes of "cosmic consciousness", are experienced by both artists and mystics and should be cultivated as the first step to apprehension of the fourth dimension. "Art anticipates a psychic evolution and divines its future forms" [ 12, p. 73].

Third, the concept of the fourth dimension was of general interest to the avant-garde of the time. Max Weber, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Metzinger, Guillaume Apollinaire, Kazimir

Malevich (1878-1935), and Mikhail Matyushin (1861-1934) all studied the idea in some depth [20].

Matyushin was a leading member of the St. Petersburg Art Society 'Union of Youth'. During the winter of 1912-1913, he wrote an unpublished manuscript on The Sensation of the Fourth Dimension [21] and shortly after published a review of Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger's book Du Cubisme. In this review, published in the third Union of Youth magazine in March, 1913, Matyushin translated portions ofDu Cubisme and juxtaposed them with quotations from Ouspensky's work. At this time Larionov was particularly close to the Union of Youth. In December, 1912, he exhibited two of his early rayist paintings, 'Portrait of a Fool' and 'Rayist Sausage and Mackerel', at their exhibition in St Petersburg.

It is therefore no surprise to find direct reference to the term 'the fourth dimension' in the rayist painting manifestos of Larionov and Goncharova. If one reads through the manifestos, translated by John E. Bowlt in The Russian Avant Garde, Theory and Criticism 1902-1934 [22], it becomes clear that the fourth dimension played a central and important part in the theory of rayist painting. In the light of the brief historical survey above, a case clearly exists for investigating the relationship between the art of Larionov and Goncharova and Hinton's theories of the fourth dimension with their philosophical elaboration by Ouspensky.

Larionov's theory of rayism was proclaimed in four mani- festos [23], all the texts of which make direct reference to the fourth dimension: "The picture appears slippery; it imparts a sensation of the extratemporal, of the spatial. In it arises the sensation of what could be called the fourth dimension, because its length, breadth and density of the layer of paint are the only signs of the outside world-all the sensations that arise from the picture are of a different order" [23b, trans. in 22, p. 91]. This reference occurred first in the booklet Rayism, in April, 1913, and then in Rayists and Futurists: A Manifesto and Rayist Painting (a revised version of Rayism), both published in The Donkey's Tail and Target book of July 1913 [23]. Only with Pictorial Rayism, which appeared in the Parisian Montjoie!, April-June 1914, was the wording slightly changed: "In rayist painting the intrinsic life and continuum of the coloured masses form a synthesis image in the mind of the spectator, one that goes beyond time and space. One glimpses the famous fourth dimension since the length, breadth and density of the superposition of the painted colours are the only signs of the visible world; and all the other sensations created by images are of another order" [23d, trans. in 22, p. 102].

What then was the role of the fourth dimension in rayist painting and theory? According to the manifestos, rayism is the painting of 'intangible forms' and 'immaterial objects' in space. These can only be perceived, chosen, and then isolated for painting by the artist's will, for the whole of space is filled with such infinite products. These peculiar forms and objects are produced by the intersection of the sum of reflected rays from each of two or more physical objects, as in 'Glass' (Fig. 1), where bottles, tumblers, wine glass, and table are used for deflection of rays. Paintings such as 'Glass', in which physical objects are used to create intangible spatial forms via reflected rays, Larionov called 'realistic rayism' (Realistichesky Luchizm).

However, works such as 'Brown-Yellow Rayism', 'Rayist Construction of a Street', and 'Green and Blue Forest' (Fig. 2), which appear to be totally freed from concrete objects, making spatial forms alone the subjects, Larionov called 'pneumo- rayism' (Pnevno-Luchizm). This method of painting joined together elements between the spatial forms into more general masses, presenting the scene against a sectional rayist back- ground. In theory at least, rayism is always concerned with the depiction of these intangible spatial forms. In 'realistic rayism', objects are only a means to this end.

The reflected rays that create the spatial forms are depicted by


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Fig. 1. MikhailLarionov (1881-1964). 'Glass', oil on canvas, 104 x 97 cm. 1912. (Guggenheim Museum Collection. Copyright ADAGP Paris 1983.)

coloured lines, while the spatial forms are depicted by textured coloured masses such as those in 'Brown-Yellow Rayism' or the often illustrated 'Blue Rayism' [24]. Coloured lines and texture are the two fundamental, purely painterly laws according to which rayist painting exists and develops. A picture, Larionov explained, consists only of these two things and the sensation that arises from them that is "the sensation of the fourth dimension".

Before discussing the sensation arising from rayist paintings, several analogies can be drawn between the method of the rayist painter who seeks to depict intangible forms and immaterial objects in space, and the method of Hinton, who generated four- dimensional 'hyper-solids' from three-dimensional solids. Hinton wrote: "From every point of a cube interior as well as exterior, we must imagine that it is possible to draw a line in the unknown direction. The assemblage of these lines would constitute a higher solid" [6, p. 10].

First, Hinton drew lines from his three-dimensional solids. Larionov did this also. Rays are depicted on the canvas by coloured lines, and they are always painted as reflectedfrom the object. We never see ray lines emanating from any light source. Thus in 'Glass' the bottles, tumblers, wine glass, and table top sprout reflected colour ray lines from their surface.

Second, the assemblage of Hinton's lines constitutes a 'hyper- solid', the assemblage (and Larionov referred to the sum, not just to a few) of the reflected ray lines in their intersection constitute 'immaterial objects', such as the bent image of the bottle in 'Glass', and 'intangible forms in space', as in 'Brown-Yellow Rayism', 'Rayist Construction of a Street', and 'Blue and Green Forest'.

Third, just as Hinton used a three-dimensional cube as a departure point for generating a 'hypercube', so Larionov and Goncharova used three-dimensional objects as their departure points for obtaining 'intangible forms in space', Even when the result is 'pneumorayist', the departure point in the third dimension is usually given in the title, for example, Goncharova's 'Cats: Rayist Perception in Rose, Black, and Yellow' (Gug- genheim Museum, New York), or Larionov's 'Sea Beach with Woman: Pneumorayist Composition' (Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne).

Fig. 2. Natalya Goncharova (1881-1962), detail of 'Green and Blue Forest', oil on canvas, 55 x 50 cm, c. 1913. (Galerie Ernst Beyeler, Basle.

Copyright ADA GP Paris 1983.)

Furthermore, Hinton advocated study of the tesseract so that we might perceive the workings of four-dimensional space. Larionov moved from 'realistic rayism' to 'pneumorayism' as a result of educating his own 'space sense' to perceive the spatial forms, first by observing how three-dimensional objects radiate them and then by direct perception of them. Thus, the methods of the fourth-dimension theorist and the rayist painter are analogous.

It might be argued that rayism has far more to do with optics and the nature of light. After all, Larionov states that rayism proceeded from 'the doctrine of luminosity', referring to radioactive and ultraviolet rays. In his 1913 theory he argued that rays proceed from a light source before being reflected. It is likely that Larionov's interest in colour and texture developed from Impressionist and post-Impressionist optical theory. However, in the 1914 'Pictorial Rayism' manifesto [23d] there was no mention of light, luminosity, or light rays, and the ray line took on a totally different and far more important character. Here rayism is: "the dramatic representation of the struggle of the plastic emanations radiating from all things around us: Rayism is the painting of space revealed not by the contours of objects, not even by their formal colouring, but by the ceaseless and intense drama of the rays that constitute the unity of all things." [23d, trans. in 22, p. 101].

Reflected rays of light had now become "emanations plastiques" that the object itself radiates, without the need of light or a light source. A few lines later Larionov reinforced this in his comments that new spatial forms will be created between three-dimensional tangible objects "by their own radiation".


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Rayism is defined as "the painting of space", not of light as we might expect, and "the unity of all things" is constituted by the ray lines, as if objects in our space are three-dimensional fragments of a four-dimensional unity, the two being indicated by ray lines. This idea was close to Ouspensky's fourth dimension, where "everything is all."


The rayist method might only be analogous to the method of Hinton, but the aims of both the theorist and the rayist painter were the same; to glimpse "the famous fourth dimension".

As the first two manifesto quotations above indicate, Larionov argued that a sensation of the fourth dimension would be evoked as such works appeared "slippery", or difficult to penetrate. The sensation would be outside of our experience of time and outside of our three-dimensional "space sense". One could glimpse the fourth dimension through the lines and coloured masses, which create a 'synthesis image' (of a four- dimensional space form?) on the canvas. How does this work in practice? Larionov and Goncharova's pneumorayist works (e.g., Fig. 2) are difficult to read, partly because the lines, planes, and coloured masses of the paintings do not appear to stay still. The colour masses give the impression of being in swift movement, while the ray lines create planes, the relationships between which shift and change violently. There is no object to grasp by which we can orient ourselves in relation to what we see and from which we can impose our three-dimensional space knowledge on the rayist picture space. It is as if we were experiencing a flash of 'cosmic consciousness' just as Ouspensky's supermen behold the four-dimensional vista, bewildered and afraid because their canon of logical thought can impose no order on what they perceive. Similarly, 'pneumorayism' plunges us into a world where for fleeting instants spatial forms appear, slide by, and are engulfed in other forms. Nothing is stable enough for us to work from; no form can be isolated to help us judge and compare other forms. Nor does the colour shading help us. The paintings are flat, two- dimensional, stained canvases, yet the ray lines lead our eye in and out of the rayist picture space. Each painting is in total flux.

Larionov is proved correct: the picture is "slippery". It does impart a sensation that is spatial, and yet it is a sensation that does not conform to our "space sense" [25]. It is certainly an extra temporal sensation; the paintings are devoid of time. The fruit of Matisse's still life are fresh and vibrant. Cubist portraits are of middle-aged or young art dealers (Vollard and Kahnweiler), Kandinsky's 1912-1914 works are apocalyptic, yet pneumo- rayist works transcend them all because the time factor is not present. Indeed, Ouspensky asserted in Tertium Organum [12] that time as we know it would be nonexistent in the fourth dimension, as time is only our incorrect sensation of four- dimensional motion upon our three-dimensional space.

Larionov claimed in all four manifestos that the length and breadth of the painting along with the density of the paint layer are the only signs of the world as we apprehend it visually according to three dimensions. If this is true, then the spatial forms that are the subject of these paintings are a 'synthesis image', a representation of a form of four dimensions (the 'synthesis image' obtained by meditating on Hinton's tesseract). Larionov further wrote that the sensations evoked by the creation of these "new forms in space" are of a different order from the three-dimensional order we know. Thus pneumo- rayism not only evokes the sensation of objects of higher space-the fourth or n-dimensional: "that superreal order that man must always always seek" [23d, trans. in 22p. 102]-but re- creates them in painterly form.

Goncharova, who claimed to have elaborated Larionov's theory of rayism, was also a seeker after the 'superreal'. The

preface to the catalogue of her one-woman exhibition in August-October, 1913 [26], contains references to the East and its mysticism, an interest shared by both Ouspensky and Hinton [27].

Goncharova's 'Green and Yellow Forest' (Fig. 3) is 'realistic rayism' on a large scale. It is a bold attempt to recreate in painterly form, "the whole world in its spiritual and concrete totality", as advocated in both 'Rayist Painting' [23c] and 'Rayists and Futurists' [23b]. Goncharova would have said she was working out the transformation of the world under rayist or four-dimensional perception. Here Humanity (notice the woman on the left) is spiritually and formally integrated with the entire natural context, achieved by the colour ray lines "which constitute the unity of all things" in the fourth dimension. Such integration, which leads to a perception of everything as part of a vast unified whole, well illustrates the 'everything is all' logic of Tertium Organum [12]. For Goncharova, this culminated in a number of pneumorayist forest paintings, such as 'Green and Blue Forest' (Fig. 2). This idea may be behind Larionov's 'Sea Beach With Woman' (Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne), where a similar integration is attempted between human being and environment.


Larionov and Goncharova were obviously following Ouspensky's command in Tertium Organum [12]: "The artist must be a clairvoyant: he must see that which others do not see; he must be a magician: must possess the power to make others see that which they themselves do not see, but which he does see" [12, p. 145].

Ouspensky attributed to the artist 'clairvoyant sight'. What the artist sees must be interpreted for those who have mere three- dimensional sight. It had long been assumed that from four- dimensions of space one's sight would be fundamentally altered. Three-dimensional objects would become transparent. The idea was charmingly illustrated and explained by Bragdon in his A Primer of High Space 1913 (Fig. 4), [9].

The fourth-dimension theory of transparency offers an interesting parallel with the effects of transparency as painted by Larionov and Goncharova. It appears to me that such effects were primarily suggested by their friend, the Moscow painter Ivan M. Firsov [28], who had developed his own theory of transparency. (We should not forget that the use of transparency as a pictorial device occurs in Cubism-especially in the work of Braque and Picasso, ca. 1910-11 -and also plays an important role in Italian Futurist painting.) Firsov's theory did not survive in written form, but between 1913 and 1914 Goncharova attributed a number of her works to his theory [29], and Mary Chamot has suggested its application in 'Cats', now at the Guggenheim Museum, New York [30].

Although Larionov never attributed any of his works to Firsov's theory, his first transparency work 'Street Scene', a lithograph, was probably done under Firsov's influence since it was an illustration for Le Futur [28]. Here we can clearly see the underwear of the ladies on the left and right. This is not visual penetration into someone's very interior, which Bragdon and other theorists believed possible from the fourth dimension. For an illustration of this we must look at Larionov's 'Boulevard Venus' (1914) (Fig. 5), where again the underwear is observed, but, more significantly, the subject's left leg bone, as she lifts it out of the right side of the painting, is keenly depicted.

Larionov and Goncharova were certainly clairvoyants in Ouspensky's sense of the word. Not only did they paint the intangible forms of four-dimensional space, but they represented our three-dimensional world as seen from the fourth dimension. Larionov explained that the three-dimensional eye was an


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imperfect apparatus because the images it transmits to the brain have to be corrected by the senses [31]. Larionov and Goncharova acquired the attributes of four-dimensional sight. How? If they followed Ouspensky, they used the fourth unit of psychic life-intuition-to paint both the spatial forms of the four-dimensional world and of the transparent and illusionary three-dimensional world; those things we cannot see but which Larionov assured us "the painter's eye can see". In practice, however, the artists were probably helped by books in their library, such as Italo Tonta's X-ray photography book, Raggi di Rontgen e loro practiche applicazioni, Milan 1898 [32]. X-rays produce the four-dimensional effect of transparency and this partly accounts for the relationship between the fourth dimension and the radioactive and ultraviolet rays already referred to in the 1913 rayist manifestos.

Larionov shared this interest with the Italian Futurists, who in 1910 declared: "Who can still believe in the opacity of bodies, since our sharpened and multiplied sensitiveness has already penetrated the obscure manifestations of the medium? Why

should we forget in our creations the doubled power of our sight capable of giving results analogous to those of 'x' rays?" [33].

Larionov and Goncharova followed another of Ouspensky's prescriptions for becoming a four-dimensionally conscious superman. Ouspensky emphasized that a superman's feelings and emotions should exceed those of ordinary men, as intellectual development into a higher dimension had to be accompanied by similar emotional development. Larionov spoke for them both, when he said: "More than anything else we value intensity of feeling, and its great sense of uplifting" [23b, trans. in 22, p. 90].

During 1913, Larionov and Goncharova, along with Mikhail Le-Dantyu and Ilya Zdanevich, began painting their faces with rayist signs (Fig. 6), in accord with Ouspensky who noted that a superman should always be connected with the "mysterious", "inexplicable", "magical", and the "sorcerous". The rayist signs they wore were strange and alchemical indeed. The group referred to their painted faces as "the first speech to find unknown truths". Again, the idea was from Ouspensky, who

Fig. 3. N. Goncharova, 'Green and Yellow Forest', oil on canvas, 101 x 85 cm, 1912-13. (Private collection, Paris. Copyright ADAGP Paris 1983.)

302 Anthony Parton

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Fig. 4. Claude Bragdon, 'Man as Seen by Clairvoyant and by Ordinary Human Sight', bookplate, 17 x 12 cm, 1913 (From A Primer of Higher Space [9]. Copyright Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.; reproduced by permission of

the publisher.)

directly connected the concept of superman with the theo- sophical belief in the discovery of hidden knowledge.

For Larionov and Goncharova, the unknown truth, the hidden knowledge, was probably the revelation of the fourth dimension. In their manifesto, Why We Paint Ourselves, (Christmas, 1913) they stated: "We paint ourselves because a clean face is offensive, because we want to herald the unknown, to rearrange life, and to bear man's multiple soul to the upper reaches of reality" [19, trans. in 22, p. 83].

The rearrangement of life was the plea of Ouspensky's Tertium Organum [12], a plea for a new logic and for a higher four- dimensional existence.


The above evidence suggests that a causal relationship existed between the development of abstraction in the art of Larionov and Goncharova (1912-1914) and popular ideas of the fourth spatial dimension with their mystical and philosophical elabora- tion by Ouspensky. Between 1912 and 1914, Larionov and Goncharova applied such ideas in developing and explaining their new style of abstract painting. However, to suggest that Larionov and Goncharova took these ideasper se very seriously would be wrong. The two artists used them only in combination with their art, and even then sometimes with great frivolity.


Fig. 5. M. Larionov, 'Boulevard Venus', oil on canvas, 116.3 x 86.1 cm, 1913. Musee d'Art Moderne. Centre National Georges Pompidou, Paris.

(Copyright ADA GP Paris 1983.)

Fig. 6. Contemporary photograph: Larionov painting his face. (From T. Loguine. Gontcharova et Larionov: Cinquante Ans a Saint Germain- des-PrOs, Paris: Editions Klincksieck, 1971, plate 4. Reproduced by

courtesy of Tatiana Loguine.)

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Witness Larionov using transparency theory as an excuse to indulge his bawdy Rabelaisian humor in painting 'see-through' pictures of prostitutes' underwear (Fig. 5).

Other members of Larionov's group became close to Ouspensky and Gurdjieff and were more seriously involved in their teachings. The brothers Ilya and Kirill Zdanevich, for example, knew Ouspensky and Gurdjieff in Tiflis in 1919 and 1920. Ilya wrote an article about Gurdjieff for the avant-garde newspaper, 41?, in July, 1919, and frequently corresponded with him. Kirill drew and painted portraits of the mystic, and during early 1920 was a member of Gurdjieff s Institute For The Harmonious Development of Man [34].

The fourth dimension and the Ouspenskian superman were new and exciting ideas which Larionov and Goncharova suddenly seized on during 1912-14. They dropped the ideas with equal abruptness when their novelty wore off and new opportunities arose, such as Diaghilev's invitation to both of them to design for the Ballets Russes in Paris. Larionov's call in 'Why We Paint Ourselves' [19] for "mutiny against the earth" was answered in St Petersburg by Kazimir Malevich, Mikhail Matyushin, and Aleksei Kruchenykh with their Futurist opera on the superman theme, 'Victory over the Sun'.


1. The term "rayism" is a literal translation of luchizm. Ray-ism, "luch" being the Russian for ray, has been used throughout this article as opposed to the more familiar "rayonism", which derives from the French translation of "luch"-le rayon.

2. L. D. Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry Reinterpreted, Art Quarterly 34, 410-433 (1971).

3. L. D. Henderson, The Artist, The Fourth Dimension and Non- Euclidean Geometry 1900-1930: A Romance of Many Dimensions (New Haven, CT: Yale University, Ph.D. Dissertation, 1975).

4. P. Laporte, "Cubism and Science", Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 7, 243-256 (1949).

5. C. H. Hinton, A New Era of Thought (New York: Swan, Sonnenschein, 1888).

6. C. H. Hinton, The Fourth Dimension (London: Swan, Son- nenschein; New York: John Lane, 1904).

7. H. P. Manning, The Fourth Dimension Simply Explained (New York: Munn, 1910).

8. C. F. Bragdon, Man the Square (Rochester, New York: The Manas Press, 1912). Reprinted in [9].

9. C. F. Bragdon, A Primer of Higher Space, The Fourth Dimension, to which is added Man the Square, A Higher Space Parable (Rochester, New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1913).

10. P. D. Ouspensky, The Fourth Dimension (original, St. Petersburg, 1909). Translated in [11] pp. 67-112.

11. P. D. Ouspensky, A New Model of the Universe: Principles of The Psychological Method in its Application to Problems of Science, Religion and Art (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1960).

12. P. D. Ouspensky, Tertium Organum: The Third Canon of Thought: A Key to the Enigmas of the World. Originally, St. Petersburg, 1911; Second Edition translated by N. Bessaraboff and C. Bragdon (London: Kegan Paul, Trench Trubner, 1922).

13. P. D. Ouspensky, "Superman", The Inner Circle (original, St. Petersburg, 1913). Translated in [11] pp. 113-147.

14. Dr. Richard Maurice Biicke wrote the book Cosmic Consciousness. Buicke was also the doctor who cared for the American poet Walt Whitman after he suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1873. Biicke's biography, Walt Whitman, (published in 1883) presented Whitman as a mystical superman. It is interesting that Buicke provided inspiration for Ouspensky and that his patient Whitman provided inspiration for Larionov. Larionov introduced his 1913 manifesto, Rayist Painting, [23c], with a quotation from Whitman'sLeaves of Grass.

15. The first canon of thought was held to be that of Aristotle and the second that of Bacon. Bragdon explained in the introduction to the translation of the second edition of Tertium Organum [12]: "The Organon of Aristotle formulated the laws under which the subject thinks; the Novum Organum of Bacon, the laws under which the object may be known; but the third canon of thought existed

before these two, and ignorance of its laws does not justify their violation. Tertium Organum shall guide and govern human thought henceforth" [12, p. 1].

16. Some of Ouspensky's ideas are similar to those of the Upanishads, which question the nature of everyday life, reality or illusion? The Upanishads conclude that the world we know is appearance alone-maya. Maya is merely an expression of brahma, the invisible, impersonal, and only true reality. This is rather like the fourth dimension, of which objects in the third dimension are merely a cross-section, an expression that is not ultimately real. Also in Hinduism there is no real human individuality. A human's life is like a drop thrown up by an ocean wave, which, when it falls back into the ocean, loses that apparent individuality. The ocean is brahma, the impersonal all. When Ouspensky says "everything is all" in the fourth dimension he is applying this Hindu idea to a three-dimensional drop in a four-dimensional ocean.

17. Anna Butkovsky-Hewitt in her book, With Gurdjieff in St. Petersburg and Paris (London 1978), recalled discovering Tertium Organum in a public library in St. Petersburg.

18. Recorded in Duncan M. Y. Sommerville, Bibliography of Non- Euclidean Geometry, including the Theory of Parallels, Foundations of Geometry and Space of "N" Dimensions (University of St. Andrews, 1911).

19. M. Larionov, I. Zdanevich, Pochemu mui Raskrashivaemsya, (Why We Paint Ourselves) Argus (St Petersburg), 114-118 (Christmas 1913). Translated in [22], pp. 79-83.

20. Articles on other artists and the fourth dimension include: L. D. Henderson, The Merging of Time and Space: The Fourth Dimension in Russia from Ouspensky to Malevich, The Structurist No. 15/16, 97-108 (1975-1976). S. Compton, Malevich and the Fourth Dimension, Studio International 187, No. 965, 190-195 (April 1974), S. Compton, Malevich's Suprematism-The Higher Intuition, Burlington Magazine, 118, No. 881, 576-585 (August 1976). L. D. Henderson, Italian Futurism and the Fourth Dimension, Art Journal (Winter 1981). T. H. Gibbons, Cubism and 'The Fourth Dimension' in the Context of the Late Nineteenth Century and The Early Twentieth Century Revival of Occult Idealism, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 44 (1981). Povellikhina, "Matyushin's Spatial System", The Isms of Art in Russia, 1907-1930 (Galeria Gmurzynska exhibition cata- logue, Cologne 1977) pp. 27-41.

21. A. B. Nakov, The Iconoclastic Fury, Studio 187, No. 967,281-282 (June 1974).

22. J. E. Bowlt, ed. and trans. The Russian Avant Garde: Theory and Criticism 1902-1934 (New York: Viking Press, 1976).

23. The Four Manifestos are: (a) M. Larionov, Luchizm (Rayism) (Moscow: Ts. A. Myunster, 1913). (b) M. Larionov, N. Gonch- arova with nine other signatories, Luchisty i Budushchniki. Manifest (Rayists and Futurists. A Manifesto), Oslinuiy Khvost i Mishen (The Donkey's Tail and Target) (Moscow: Ts. A. Myunster, 1913). (c) M. Larionov, Luchistskaya Zhivopis (Rayist Painting), Oslinuiy Khvost i Mishen (The Donkey's Tail and Target) (Moscow: Ts. A. Myunster, 1913). Translated in [22] pp. 91-100. (d) M. Larionov, Le Rayonnisme Pictural (Pictorial Rayism), Montjoie!: (Paris) No. 4/5/6, 15 (April/May/June 1914). Translated in [22] pp. 100-102.

24. 'Blue Rayism' used to be the painting, 'Portrait of a Fool', as illustrated by Eli Eganbyuri in his biography Nataliya Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov (Moscow: Ts. A. Myunster, 1913). According to Susan Compton in the recent Tate Gallery Exhibition Catalogue: Abstraction Towards a New Art, Painting 1910-1920(London: Tate Gallery Publications Department, 1980), it appears that Larionov later altered the composition, rotated the picture through 90 degrees, initialled it this way up, and renamed it 'Blue Rayism'.

25. In Rayist Painting [23c] and Rayists and Futurists [23b] Larionov makes it clear that the sensation evoked is a spatial sensation, whilst in Pictorial Rayism [23d] the sensation goes beyond space. I take this to mean that the sensation is spatial as it deals with higher dimensions, and thus goes beyond our mere three-dimensional knowledge of space.

26. Vuistavka Kartin Natalli Sergeevnuii Goncharovoi, 1900-1913 (Exhibition of Paintings by Nataliya Sergeevna Goncharova 1900-1913) (Moscow: Artists Salon, 1913). Translated in [22] pp. 54-60.

27. Before Hinton went to America he visited Japan and became deeply involved with its culture. He may have derived from its


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Russian 'Rayism'

Buddhism the asceticism of his tesseract exercises, which de- manded a casting out of the 'self elements'-a giving up of individuality in perception to aid cognition of the fourth dimension. The idea is close to the Hindu belief in the illusion of individuality [16]. Goncharova echoed these ideas in her preface: "I find those people ridiculous who advocate individuality and who assume there is some value in their 'I' " [26, translated [22], p. 57]. cf. Ouspensky in Superman (1913): "Unless he attains inner unity, man can have no 'I', can have no will. The concept of will in relation to a man who has not attained inner unity is entirely artificial" [ 13, trans. in [1 ], p. 132]. In this context, remember that Larionov said the spatial forms in rayist paintings could be perceived and chosen by the artist's will.

28. The Moscow artist Ivan M. Firsov must have been known to Larionov and Goncharova before July 1913 (see [29]). He first collaborated with them to produce the futurist book, Le Futur, in August 1913. It was a slim volume of verses by the poet Konstantin Bol'shakov (1895-1940), which were handwritten for reproduction by Firsov. Larionov and Goncharova provided illustrations. Less than a year later at Larionov's No. 4 Exhibition in Moscow, March-April 1914, Firsov exhibited several works based on his theory of transparency.

29. The first reference to a Goncharova painting based on Firsov's transparency theory occurred in Eganbyuri's biography of Larionov and Goncharova [24], July 1913. Here Eganbyuri listed Goncharova's paintings, and the last item is titled Construction Based on Transparency. (Theory of I. Firsov). Shortly after August 1913, four paintings by Goncharova appeared in her one- woman exhibition in Moscow, Nos. 660-663. Again their collective title was Constructions based on Transparency (Theory of I.M. Firsov)-Postroeniya Osnovannuie Na Prozrachnosti (Teoriya I. M. Firsova).

30. M. Chamot, Goncharova Stage Designs and Paintings (London: Oresko Books, 1979) p. 51.

31. Exactly the same point had been made by Ouspensky in his The Fourth Dimension [10].

32. The book is now located in the Larionov collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

33. Boccioni, Carra, Russolo, Balla, Severini, Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto 1910. Translated in Umbro Apollonio (Ed.), Futurist Manifestos (London: Thames & Hudson, 1973) pp. 27-31.

This manifesto was translated into Russian in the second Union of Youth magazine at an opportune moment for Larionov, in June 1912. This was the date that Larionov gave for the writing of his own Rayism, and it was about this time that he began to paint his first rayist works for exhibition in December 1912.

The role of Italian Futurism in the formation and development of rayism is extremely important. Not only are there numerous parallels between the Italian and Russian manifestos, but Larionov and Goncharova borrow certain pictorial devices for their own paintings from Italian Futurism. Furthermore both parties seem to have worked from common sources. Larionov's small book on X-ray photography was itself Italian and was one of a series called "Manuali Hoepli". Balla knew of this book, worked from it, and may even have sent Larionov his copy. In his fifth notebook Balla wrote: "Rontgen Rays and their applications. Manuali Hoepli" (see: M. Fagiolo: Omaggio a Balla, Rome, 1967).

It should also be noted that the concept of the fourth dimension was important to Boccioni, who in defining "dynamic continuity and form" related that "dynamic form is a species of Fourth Dimension." See Umberto Boccioni: Plastic Dynamism 1913, translated in Umbro Apollonio (Ed.): Futurist Manifestos (London: Thames & Hudson, 1973) p. 93.

34. See the exhibition catalogue, Iliazd, (Centre National Georges Pompidou: Musee d'Art Moderne, May-June 1978) p. 53.


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