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Kazimir Malevich: A mystery painting, either masterpiece or fake, puzzles experts

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Media captionArt expert Marina Zagidulina: “It was obviously from the school of Malevich.”

The painting has modest dimensions, but it could be a sensational find: is Man with a Shovel a genuine Malevich?

Belarus is where Kazimir Malevich, an ethnic Pole, lived, painted and developed an avant-garde movement that took the art world by storm in the 1920s. So Belarusians dearly hope their country will finally have its own Malevich confirmed.

For 25 years it has been on display in the city of Hrodna, near the Polish border, with the label: Malevich?

Internationally he is probably most famous for Black Square – a work that epitomises his love of abstract forms, in a radical break from figurative art rooted in recognisable reality. Malevich finally created four versions of Black Square.

Malevich is one of the most popular modern artists internationally, his works are cherished by galleries and they fetch eye-watering sums at auctions.

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Black Square: now a world-famous symbol of avant-garde art

Man with a Shovel came to light among antique items found by border guards at the Belarus-Poland border.

‘Here’s some rubbish’

Marina Zagidulina, a well-established art expert in Belarus, recalls how she spotted it back in 1994. After the collapse of the Soviet Union she was among about a dozen experts required to identify antiques seized at the border.

“Lots of items were found on the train travelling from Russia to Germany: miniatures by Aivazovsky, Bogolyubov, icons, binoculars, a pipe, watches – all from the 19th and early 20th centuries,” she told BBC Russian.

“Then they casually threw this plywood piece on top and said: ‘Here’s some rubbish. We wanted to throw it away, but then we thought: since it was hidden, it probably has some value’.

“I gasped immediately, as it was obviously from the school of Malevich.”

Founder of Suprematism: Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935)

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A Malevich self-portrait, 1933

  • Born near Kiev, Ukraine in 1879 – then part of the Russian Empire
  • Experiments with various Modernist styles – influenced by Impressionism, Cubism and other new art movements
  • Studies art at a Moscow institute in 1904-1910
  • In 1915 publishes his manifesto From Cubism to Suprematism, abandoning representational art, in favour of an abstract realm of geometrical shapes
  • Teaches at Soviet art schools after 1917 Bolshevik Revolution
  • Works exhibited abroad to much acclaim in late 1920s
  • Soviet officialdom turns against abstract art under dictator Joseph Stalin in 1930s – Malevich jailed for two months in 1930, and returns to figurative art
  • Dies of cancer in Leningrad in 1935, aged 57

Malevich: Master of the avant-garde

A woman was later prosecuted over the smuggling, but she went to the West after being released with a pardon.

Man with a Shovel measures 36.5cm (14.4ins) by 26.5cm (10.4ins).

Some features of the work are puzzling. Ms Zagidulina says she is sure that it was touched up with some fresh oil paint after being found at the border.

However, Yuri Kiturko, director of the Hrodna State Historical and Archaeological Museum, says it was not restored – “they just cleaned the dust off it”.

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BBC/Tatsiana Yanutsevich

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Man with a Shovel went on show in a gallery in the Belarus capital Minsk in June

Ms Zagidulina says that in the middle of the painting “the thickness of paint varies – you can see that with the naked eye – and this needs investigating”.

Considering how hungry the art world is for Malevich works, why haven’t they authenticated this painting yet?

For the past 25 years the money simply has not been available in Belarus to do the kind of expensive authentication that the art world demands.

In addition, if proven to be genuine, the painting would require more expensive security.

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A St Petersburg art collector, Andrei Vasilyev, believes Man with a Shovel to be a fake.

“It’s a modern piece done in the style of Malevich, but made to look old, which was being taken to the West for sale at some minor auction,” he told the BBC.

He says close inspection of the plywood base should reveal the age of the work.

The fact that it came to light in the 1990s is suspicious, he argues. At that time many forgeries were sent to the West as the Soviet Union disintegrated chaotically.

But according to another art expert, Olesya Inozemtseva, the use of colour and application of paint “point to this being either a work executed by Malevich himself, or a work that he co-created, perhaps with one of his students”.

She says the influence of his Belarusian roots and surroundings on his creativity remains insufficiently researched.



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Billie Eilish lands number one with James Bond theme

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No Time To Die by Billie Eilish has become only the second-ever James Bond theme song to reach the top of the UK singles chart.

Sam Smith had the only other 007 chart success, when Writing’s On The Wall from Spectre went top in 2015.

Eilish, who turned 18 in December, is the youngest artist ever to record a track for the Bond franchise.

The star performed No Time to Die live for the first time this week, at the Brit Awards in London.

She also picked up the prize for best international female at the ceremony.

  • Billie Eilish’s Bond theme is dramatic and audacious
  • The Brits mark turning 40 by refusing to look back

No Time To Die racked up 90,000 equivalent chart sales in its first week; including 10.6 million streams.

That makes it the biggest track of the year so far and also the fastest-selling Bond song (Smith’s shifted 70,000 in its first week).

‘Insane writer’s block’

Speaking to BBC Breakfast this week, Eilish said that her and brother/musical partner Finneas O’Connell had suffered an “intense amount of writer’s block” as soon as they were given the nod to produce the track.

Having made an unsuccessful attempt at writing it in a traditional recording studio, they eventually came up with the goods while on the road.

“We wrote and recorded the Bond song on a tour bus in Texas,” explained O’Connell.

A meeting with the Bond film boss Barbara Broccoli in Ireland, following one of their live shows, helped the writing process as she gave then “a little hint of the first scene”.

Broccoli followed that up by sending the pair the script for the opening sequence.

“It was so cool to read that,” said Eilish. “It was really helpful, it really wrote the song for us, I think”.

The finished song is a dramatic, unsettling ballad that hints the plot will centre around the secret agent’s betrayal, the BBC’s Mark Savage noted last week.

The lyrics to No Time To Die reference lies and deceit, as Eilish sings: “You were never on my side.”

Daniel Craig’s final outing as the world’s most famous British secret agent arrives in cinemas in April, and Eilish said the actor had a “big say” in who wrote the film’s opening track.

She admitted they’d already seen a “half-done” version of version of the film (minus their track), which looked “amazing”.

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Official Charts Company

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Licence to win: Eilish was issued with her number one trophy by the Official Charts Company

The star performed the new song alongside an orchestra, Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and composer Han Zimmer at Tuesday’s Brit Awards.

Speaking to the BBC’s Colin Paterson backstage, she dedicated the performance to her fans.

“It was really nice that there were fans right up front that I could look at and smile at. I feel like that was the peak of it for me,” she said.

“They always prove to me every time I doubt myself that I don’t need to, because they are there.”

She added: “They really make me feel better about myself and make me feel like everything I do is worth it… I’m human, man!”

Eilish also revealed that her own favourite ever Bond song is… Adele’s Skyfall.

“I dunno, Adele is just Adele,” she laughed. “You’ve gotta give it to her.”

How have other Bond themes fared in the charts?

While Eilish and Smith reached the chart summit, two other official songs from the movie have taken the number two spot.

Duran Duran’s A View To A Kill peaked at number two in 1985, as did Adele’s Skyfall in 2012.

Despite winning an Oscar and a Golden Globe, Adele’s effort was denied top spot by Swedish House Mafia’s Don’t You Worry Child.

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Billie Eilish wrote the new song alongside her brother and musical partner Finneas O’Connell

Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger, in 1964, could only reach number 21 and when the Welsh singer returned in 1971 declaring Diamonds Are Forever, she went to number 38.

Sir Paul McCartney and his post-Beatles band Wings faired slightly better two years later with Live and Let Die reaching ninth place.

The worst performing Bond song was Rita Coolidge’s All Time High which reached 75th place in the charts in 1983.


Eilish’s 2019 album, When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go?, went to number one on its release in April last year, making her the youngest-ever female solo artist to top the album chart.

Almost a year on, the indefatigable record is still hanging around in fourth spot in the album charts, where this week Justin Bieber snatched his second number one with Changes.

Renewed interest in Lewis Capaldi following his Brits double win ensured he pushed Bieber all the way, while Tame Impala’s new album The Slow Rush – the week’s best-selling album on vinyl – went in at number three.

Fewer than 1,200 chart sales separated the top three.


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Newly-discovered Rembrandt work to go on display in Oxford

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The exhibition featuring Let The Little Children Come To Me opens at the Ashmolean Museum on Thursday 27 February

A newly-discovered Rembrandt painting will go on display for the first time, nearly 400 years since it was created.

Let The Little Children Come To Me will be shown at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford as part of its Young Rembrandt exhibition.

The painting was discovered in 2014 by Amsterdam art dealer and historian Jan Six.

He identified a young man in the painting’s background as a self-portrait by Rembrandt.

The exhibition will explore the early years of the artist’s work from 1624-34.

Let The Little Children Come To Me is believed to have been painted around 1627-28.

The exhibition will feature 31 paintings by Rembrandt, 13 by his notable contemporaries and a further 90 drawings and prints from international and private collections.

Among those on display will be Rembrandt’s earliest known work, The Spectacles Seller (1624-25), which is described by the museum as a “crude, garishly coloured painting by an artist struggling with his medium”, as well as Jeremiah Lamenting The Destruction Of Jerusalem (1630), hailed as an “acknowledged masterpiece”.

The Young Rembrandt exhibition runs from 27 February until 27 June in the John Sainsbury Exhibition Galleries.



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Dot Cotton: Actress June Brown says she has left EastEnders ‘for good’

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June Brown as Dot Branning in EastEnders, sitting in an armchair drinking a cup of tea

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“You should appreciate your fans,” Brown told the podcast

Veteran EastEnders actress June Brown has said she has left her role as much-loved character Dot Cotton after 35 years.

“I’ve left for good,” said the 93-year-old in an interview with podcast Distinct Nostalgia.

She is one of the BBC soap’s longest-running characters and has become a firm favourite with viewers.

Her character Dot has not been in an episode since January. An EastEnders spokesman said the “door remains open”.

Brown joined the show in 1985, the year it was created.

In the last episode she featured in, aired last month, Dot Cotton – or Dot Branning – left a voicemail message for character Sonia Fowler saying she had moved to Ireland.

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Brown told the podcast she is hoping to do a documentary next

Asked by interviewer and former co-star Rani Singh whether EastEnders had put her on a retainer, Brown replied: “I don’t want a retainer. I’ve left. I’ve left for good.

“I’ve sent myself to Ireland and that’s where she’ll stay. I’ve left EastEnders.”

One of EastEnders’ best-known stars, Brown was in her late 50s when she joined Albert Square.

Actor Leslie Grantham, who played Dirty Den, suggested her for the role. Until then, Brown’s career had incorporated stage, film and television, with appearances in Coronation Street and Doctor Who.

“I think I got it because they thought I was a punctual actress,” Brown told the podcast, which aired a special episode to celebrate 35 years of EastEnders.

“I’m not really but I became so. In fact I became so punctual I used to be in an hour before I should be.”

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Media captionJune Brown: 90 years in 90 seconds

She said it “was a very strange feeling” leaving the soap.

“I was feeling rather down the other day,” she said. “I thought, ‘what’s the matter? Why do I feel so sad?’ It’s almost as if I’ve been bereaved.

“I’ve played two people simultaneously for 35 years. Really Dot wasn’t me, but spiritually she probably was.”

Brown took a four-year break from the soap between 1993 and 1997

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An episode from 2008 shows Dot being teased by a gang as she walks to the Tube

In 2008, Brown became the first actor in a British soap to carry an entire episode alone, with an emotional monologue dictated to a cassette for her screen husband to listen to in hospital following a stroke.

That same year she was made an MBE for services to drama and charity.

Last year, Brown revealed she was losing her sight after being diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration and could no longer recognise her friends.

An EastEnders spokesman said: “We never discuss artists’ contracts, however as far as EastEnders are concerned the door remains open for June, as it always has if the story arises and if June wishes to take part.”



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