Blind contour drawing #7 “Les Faucheurs” Natalia Goncharova 1907
Natalia Goncharova is one of the most highly regarded Russian painters of the 20th century. She was bold, confident and passionate about her country.
Goncharova worked in various styles of the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century but what remained constant was the influence of traditional Russian folk art and icon painting.
She came from a prosperous family of architects and spent much time of her growing up at her grandmother’s country estate. She decided to attend university, which at the time was not a common path for women and mid way through her schooling, in 1901, she transferred to the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.
There she met her lifelong love and fellow artist, Mikhail Larionov. The couple explored different visual styles and ideology, eventually pioneering an art movement called Rayonism. Drawing from Russian thoughts around Futurism, they created a painting style that expressed energy and movement like rays of light.
The couple started an artist collective called ‘Donkey’s Tail’, which included Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich.
She was invited to show work in Paris at the Salon d’Automne in 1906 and subsequently helped arrange a reciprocal show in Russia bringing Gauguin, van Gogh, Cezanne and Matisse to her home country for the first time.
Her paintings portrayed peasants at work, cutting hay, shaving ice, washing, and weaving. She gave her subjects, mostly women almost religious statue and strength. She paired the secular with the religious and was criticized for it. Much of her work was considered blasphemy by the church which only added to the controversy around her as she was unmarried and living with a man.
In 1910, two nudes and a painting called The God(dess) of Fertility were declared pornographic and confiscated by the police. She was put on trial for pornography, yet was acquitted. Goncharova and Larinov set a precedent for performance art that was not further developed until the 1970s. Together, the artists would appear naked in public with their bodies painted! She often wore men’s clothing, loved tattoos and sometimes went topless in public with designs painted on her breasts.
By 1913 she was invited to go to Paris to design costumes and staging of a production of the Ballets Russes. It was a huge success but just after the premiere, WWI began. She served in the army and was influenced by her travels to Rome and to Spain, where she met Picasso. After the war she continued to work with ballet and theatre productions and kept up with her painting.
She became secluded in her Paris apartment not able to return to Russia due to the Russian Revolution and not feeling part of the city’s art scene.
During World War II she traveled and designed for ten ballets in South Africa, and, after the war, divided her time and work between London and Paris. During the 1950’s, she suffered from severe arthritis and had to tie her brush to her hand but she continued to paint and sought inspiration from current events. Her later work is an exploration of abstraction, including a series dedicated to the Russian satellite, Sputnik.
Her work was rediscovered in 1954 and in 1961, a year before her death the British Arts Council mounted a retrospective of her work and Larionov’s work that included paintings and theatre designs.
Quote: “ Decorative painting? Poetic poetry, musical music. Nonsense. All painting is decorative, if it adorns, beautifies.”
Born: June 21, 1881 – Nagaevo, Tula Province, Russia
Died: October 17, 1962 – Paris, France