Vladimir Tatlin was a painter and architect who became one of the central figures in the Russian avante-garde following the Revolution of 1917. A progenitor of the Constructivist movement, he is best known for his unrealised but visionary design for a giant tower, Monument to the Third International.
Tatlin was born in Kharkov in the Ukraine, the son of a railway engineer and a poet. After working as a merchant sea cadet, he began his artistic career as an icon painter in Moscow. Tatlin was educated at the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts. Travelling to Paris in 1913, he visited Pablo Picasso, whose reliefs in sheet iron, wood, and cardboard inspired him to create his own ‘painting reliefs’, structures made of wood and iron for hanging in wall corners.
In the wake of the Russian Revolution there emerged an avant-garde movement known as Constructivism. Working in service of the new society, Constructivists applied engineering techniques to the construction of architecture and sculpture. Constructivism was a major force in Modernist art and design, promulgating a machine aesthetic later developed at the Bauhaus. In the post-Revolutionary period, the machines served as a metaphor for the transformations occurring in Russian society. Constructivist works are typically charged with energy and dynamism.
Tatlin designed the huge Monument to the Third International. It was commissioned in 1919 by the department of fine arts. Planned in 1920, the monument, was to be a tall tower in iron, glass and steel. Inside the structure of twin spirals, were three blocks covered with glass, which would rotate at different speeds (the first, once a year; the second, once a month; the third, once a day). The monument’s interior would have contained halls for lectures, conferences, and other activities. The monument was to be the world’s tallest structure - 396 m tall - but it was never built owing to the Soviet government’s disapproval of nonfigurative art. It was only realised as a6.7 m high model that was exhibited at the VIII Congress of the Soviets in December 1920.
In his later years Tatlin became preoccupied with the concept of unpowered flight and began working on a glide called Letatlin, which resembled a giant insect. The glider never flew. After 1933 he devoted much of his energy to stage design.