About us
Artists Natalia Goncharova
Natalia Goncharova Photo

Natalia Goncharova

Russian Painter, Writer, Set and Costume Designer, and Illustrator

Movements and Styles: Rayonism, Russian Futurism, Performance Art, Proto-Feminist Artists

Born: June 21, 1881 - Nagaevo, Tula Province, Russia

Died: October 17, 1962 - Paris, France

Natalia Goncharova Timeline

Quotes

"We have learned much from Western artists, but where do they draw their inspiration if not from the East?"
Natalia Goncharova
"One cannot forget something which is no longer outside of you but within, no longer in the past but in the present."
Natalia Goncharova
"If I extol the art of my country, then it is because I think that it ... should occupy a more honorable place than it has done hitherto..."
Natalia Goncharova
"I find those people ridiculous who advocate individuality and who assume there is some value in the 'I' even when it is extremely limited."
Natalia Goncharova
"Cubism is a positive phenomenon, but it is not altogether a new one, especially as far as Russia is concerned. The Scythians made their stone maidens in this hallowed style. Wonderful painted wooden dolls are sold at our fairs ... in France, too, it was the Gothic and African figure sculptures that served as the springboard for Cubist painting. Over the last decade, Picasso has been the most important, most talented artist working in the Cubist manner, whereas in Russia it has been yours truly."
Natalia Goncharova
"Establish no boundaries or limits for oneself in the sense of artistic pursuits. Always use all modern achievements and breakthroughs in art."
Natalia Goncharova
"Cezanne and icons are equivalent, but my works, which I painted under Cezanne's influence and under the influence of the icons, are not the same at all...I am by no means European."
Natalia Goncharova
"To repeat all of the good and idiotic things that have been said of my sisters a thousand times already is infinitely boring and useless, so I want to say a few words not about them, but to them: Believe in yourself more, in your strengths and rights before mankind and God, believe that everybody, including women, has an intellect in the form of the image of God, that there are no bounds to the human will and mind."
Natalia Goncharova
"You can understand the most abstract of things only in the forms you see most often, and also through whatever works of art you've seen."
Natalia Goncharova
"...during all eras, the subject depicted was and will be important - as important as how it is depicted."
Natalia Goncharova

"To apprehend the world about us in all its brilliance and diversity, and to bear in mind both its inner and outer content."

Natalia Goncharova Signature

Synopsis

The work of Natalia Goncharova oscillates between tunes of the sacred and notes of the profane. From an influential, wealthy, and musical family, the artist's own interests lay with Russia's rural workers and by seeming contradiction, with a cast of otherworldly characters. In her paintings, peasants portrayed in the throws of their labor - cutting hay, shaving ice, washing, and weaving - are imbued with monumental dignity. Through repetitive everyday tasks, Goncharova observed the same celestial strength more commonly associated with religious figures, and in this sense merged the realms of heaven and earth in her pictures. Alongside her lifelong love and fellow artist, Mikhail Larionov, Goncharova was part of the Russian avant garde generation involved in a relentless exploration of different visual styles and shifting ideological standpoints - eventually pioneering Rayonism. Not adverse to working in dialogue with popular culture, the artist worked closely with her friend and theater director, Sergei Diaghilev, (of Ballets Russes fame) as a costume and set designer; it was in this role that Goncharova became most well known in her later years.

Key Ideas

In her early work, Goncharova combines a Cézanne-inspired brushstroke, a Fauvist love of color and certain repeated motifs (most notably the circular dance formation) shared with Matisse, and a similar worldview (the religious paired with the secular) to that of Gauguin. Such assimilation of these three powerful influences produces work that is at once decorative and empregnated with meaning.
Orthodox Christian icons commonly found in homes and churches throughout Russia were well known and loved by Goncharova. Like many artisans and believers before her, she too painted religious scenes as 'gifts from above' that materialized intuitively following ongoing devotional dialogue with the Lord. Adding slight subversions to her 'icons' - for example the blank scrolls of The Evangelists (1911) - she revealed intentions to agitate national tradition and propose alternative, less didactic, and more open approaches to spirituality.
Goncharova expresses a particular interest in 'women's work'. Women are often depicted washing and preparing linen, harvesting fruit, and planting new crops. In stature, ordinary people (both men and women) are painted solid and hefty in reference to their position as the pillars of society, yet it is specifically women - historically sculpted as architectural caryatids - that appear most often in Goncharova's oeuvre as the load bearers of society.
As a couple, Goncharova and Larinov set a precedent for performance art that was not further developed until during the 1970s. Together, the artists would appear naked in public with their bodies painted in a similar collaboration to that of Marina Abramovic and Ulay. Their experiments also bear parallel to those of Yayoi Kusama; she too blurred boundaries of so-called propriety by appearing with her body used as canvas and her skin painted with spots (it was usually flowers for Goncharova).

Most Important Art

Natalia Goncharova Famous Art

Self-Portrait with Yellow Lilies (1907)

A look of assured simplicity, flowers in hand, and a studio backdrop give insight into the artist's bohemian existence and love of nature. As the art critic Donald Goddard wrote, "The figure exists...in the cycle of her own paintings on the back wall and of the flowers that have been cut. She is between the rough geometry and brushstrokes of the paintings and the organic shapes and brilliant colors of the flowers, not a sacred monster but a human presence, the artist as her own model, and as part of the structure of her own art."

Flowers recur throughout Goncharova's career, standing as the moment of the present, not for a time of growth or that of demise, but instead for life's incredible force of now. Flowers are a much repeated subject for modern artists, with Vincent Van Gogh and Piet Mondrian being two of the most notable examples. Whilst Van Gogh chose the sunflower as his signature bloom, Goncharova identifies instead with lilies. She also painted a Rayonist picture of lillies in 1913. The lily has long since had religious associations as the flower of chastity, as presented at the annunciation of angel Gabriel. This, however, was always a white lily and Goncharova chooses an orange alternative perhaps making reference to her own sexual experience. It does though seem important that the lily is a religious flower, for with intentions akin to those of Gauguin when he painted himself as The Yellow Christ in 1889, Goncharova also humbly presents herself as a spiritual figure on earth.
Read More ...

Natalia Goncharova Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood

Natalia Goncharova was born in the town of Nagaevo in the Tula Province in Russia to an elite Russian family. Her father, Sergei Goncharov, worked as an architect and was a descendent of Aleksandr Pushkin, the legendary poet and novelist credited as the patriarch of Russian literature and a revered symbol of national identity. Natalia was named after Pushkin's wife, in honor of her family's history. Goncharova's mother, Ekaterina Il'ichna Beliaeva came from a family that had been musically influential, and included a number of significant religious figures who were renowned musical patrons. As a young girl, Goncharova lived on her grandmother's large estate in the country, which gave her a lifelong appreciation of village life and nature. Her nanny often took her to church, which instilled a lasting spirituality. In spite of their noble lineage and significant land holdings, the family suffered financial strain. In 1892, when Goncharova was ten, her father moved the family to Moscow in search of greater financial opportunities.

Education and early training

In 1901, Goncharova enrolled at the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture focusing on sculpture. Studying with Pavel Trubetskoy, a sculptor influenced by the Impressionists and in particular by the work of Auguste Rodin, she won a silver medal for her work in 1903. At school, Goncharova began the most significant personal and artistic relationships of her life. She met and fell in love with Mikhail Larionov, a fellow art student, and began to study painting with his encouragement.

A lively and youthful artistic community grew surrounding Goncharova and Larionov to include Sergei Diaghilev, an art critic and patron who founded the World of Art periodoical and art movement. Diaghilev's publications embodied the avant-garde aesthetics of the time, placing emphasis on creative individuality and an interest in Art Nouveau. A dynamic force in general, Diaghilev gathered together artists, musicians, directors, and dancers for major exhibitions of Russian art, drama and dance that traveled to Paris and other European cities. When Goncharova and Larionov showed work in 1906 at a World of Art exhibition, Diaghilev invited them to show in his 1906 Salon d'Automne exhibition in Paris, beginning a lifelong professional relationship with both artists.

Goncharova subsequently exhibited in the Golden Fleece exhibition of 1908 and there encountered the works of Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Influenced by them, she was encouraged in her pursuit of including Russian subjects and techniques into the present idiom, claiming that, "At the beginning of my development l learned most of all from my French contemporaries. They stimulated my awareness and I realized the great significance and value of the art of my own country." In spite of her growing success, her formal training came to an end in 1909, when she was expelled by the Moscow Institute for failing to pay tuition.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Natalia Goncharova Biography Continues

Mature Period

In 1910 she was one of the founding members of the Jack of Diamonds, Moscow's first exhibiting group of avant-garde Russian painters. Most of the participants had been expelled from the conservative Moscow Institute for painting in the Post-Impressionist style. That year also saw Gonchrova's first solo exhibition that included twenty paintings, and was denounced by the press for its "disgusting depravation." The police confiscated two female nudes and her 'God(dess) of Fertility' painting. Goncharova was put on trial for pornography, yet was acquitted. In 1911, she also began exhibiting with the German based international collective, Der Blaue Reiter, a group known for merging spirituality with expressive freedom.

The Jack of Diamonds group broke up over a conflict between those who favored Western art and those who favored Russian subjects, including Goncharova and Larionov. To promote Russian themes, the couple started a new artist collective called 'Donkey's Tail', which included Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich. Driven by a powerhouse of personal energy and a work ethic bound to her esteem for rural labor, Goncharova included fifty paintings in the group's 1912 exhibition. As the famous poet, Marina Tsvetaeva wrote later, "She has the courage of a Mother Superior. A directness of features and views...Such is Goncharova with her modernity, her innovation, her success, her fame, her glory, her fashion...she did not lead a permanent school, she did not convey a one-time discovery into a method and did not canonize. To sum her up? In short: talent and hard work."

The artist's own deep spiritual affinity drew Goncharova to painting religious icons inspired by the Orthodox Church. In creating icons, she followed an icon painter's traditional practices of praying and fasting, as she said, "Others argue - and argue with me - that I have no right to paint icons. I believe in the Lord firmly enough. Who knows who believes and how? I'm learning how to fast." A personal commitment to the spiritual made her attuned to her subject matter, its relationship to the divine, and the traditions of which she was a part. While struggling with one iconic image, she wrote to a friend, "Will the Lord not let me paint this?"

Her religious imagery aroused further controversy. Following the 1912 Donkey's Tail exhibition, both her work and her own ethics were condemned by the church; her work was denounced for its treatment of religious subjects while she as a woman was labeled a controversial figure, for being unmarried but living with a man. Much to the distaste of the church, Goncharova often wore men's clothing and sometimes went topless in public with designs painted on her breasts. Both she and Larionov loved tattoos, and would appear in public, with their bodies painted, thus merging art making and daily life to challenge social expectations. They also gave chaotic 'lectures' where they would throw jugs of water at the audience. Art historian, John Bowlt wrote, "in private relations and behavior, Goncharova enjoyed a license that only actresses and gypsies were permitted, and perhaps because of this dubious social reputation rather than as the result of any apparent innuendos in her paintings, she was said to traverse the 'boundary of decency' and to 'hurt your eyes'."

In the same year as the 1912 exhibition, an inexhaustible interest in new artistic styles led the couple to join Hylaea, a literary group of Russian Futurists, which had developed independently to Italian Futurism but emphasized the same literary experimentation. Shortly thereafter, the couple developed the notion of Rayonism, writing Rayonists and Futurists, The Manifest in 1913. Focusing on the deconstruction of rays of light, Rayonism also involved the radical extension of art into everyday life. Goncharova and Larionov described it as, "a sum of rays proceeding from a source of light; these are reflected from the object and enter our field of vision." In effect, they saw it as a uniquely Russian contribution to the Futurist sensibility.

Goncharova's experimentation with self-fashioning succeeded in provoking a reaction and brought her considerable attention. Following her solo exhibition of 1914, when she was only 33, Goncharova became, as Diaghilev said, "the most famous of these progressive artists...The young crowd both in Moscow and St. Petersburg bows to her. But the funniest thing is that they don't just emulate her as an artist, they imitate her appearance, too. It was she who made the shirt dress fashionable - black and white, blue and ginger. But that was still nothing. She drew flowers on her face. And soon enough, both the nobility and the bohemians started showing up with horses, houses, and elephants on their cheeks, necks, and foreheads. This does not stop her from being an important artist."

Later Period

In spite of deeply felt mutually nationalistic sentiments, Goncharova and Larionov moved to Paris in 1914, where Goncharova extended her work in the theater and became primarily known for her stage design. Diaghilev, who had founded the acclaimed Ballet Russes in Paris, invited her to work on his production of The Golden Cockerel, based upon Pushkin's poem of the same title, and she began traveling with the troupe throughout Europe. Following the Russian Revolution, she and Larionov moved permanently to Paris in 1917. Though she ardently wished to return to Russia, Stalinism made that impossible, as she said, "I want to go east . . . but I ended up in the West," and in her diary wrote a prayer to St. George, "Will you not allow us to return?"

In the 1920s her paintings were much influenced by her stage design and inspired by her travels, particularly to Spain, as she said, "I love Spain. It seems to me that out of all the countries I have visited, this is the only one where there is some hidden energy. This is very close to Russia." Fashion design and interior design also became a noted part of her work, as she was invited to design for Marie Cuttoli's innovative fashion line, Myrbor, and was commissioned as an interior designer for various private residences. Wherever she went, she made a social statement. When working, she often adopted peasant clothing, her head covered with a scarf in the manner of the Russian peasants and the working class. Yet she also frequented aristocratic social gatherings to which she wore trend-setting outfits and entertained others by reading their palms in a humorous parody of folk superstition.

Diaghilev's death in 1929 brought with it financial hardship for Goncharova. Although she continued with her set design and illustration work, she missed her friend's skills as a promoter and patron. She revisited earlier stage works, redesigning The Golden Cockerel in 1937, and Cinderella in 1938. 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, despite the fact that severe arthritis made it necessary to tie her brush to her hand, she continued to paint and sought inspiration from current events. In the mid to late 1950s she painted a series entitled Outer Space, inspired by the Russian space program. In 1951, Larionov suffered a stroke, and for inheritance reasons the couple married in 1955. Goncharova died in 1962 after a long struggle with severe rheumatoid arthritis, her partner outlived her by only two years.


Legacy

Goncharova's Rayonist and Futurist work influenced many of her Russian contemporaries, including Kazimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin. In turn, two major new art movements were coined in Russia, Suprematism and Constructivism. Figurative scenes that had been fragmented into shards by Goncharova and Larinov became more and more abstract with only geometrical spaces recognizable as particular forms in the work of Malevich. This lead to a wave of abstract work being produced in Russia and Europe more widely; Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee were among innovators to experiment with color and form and Goncharova knew both Kandinisky and Klee through her involvement with Der Blaue Reiter.

Whilst Rayonism and Russian Futurism were influential movements in the development of abstraction, with egalitarian intentions, these new styles also pushed the trend towards Constructivism; a step further to an obvious and dramatic rejection of autonomous art in favor of art used for social purpose. Whereas Goncharova designed costumes, her fellow artists Lyubov Popova and Varvara Stepanova illustrated the fabrics themselves. Goncharova had made designs for curtains but it was Popova and Stepanova who printed textiles en masse. Whilst Gonchaova painted peasants cutting hay in the field, Popova conveyed a similar message some ten years later (knowing Goncharova's work well) by simply repeating the Russian hammer and sickle symbol in geometrical formation.

In the artist's later years, while her work as a painter received little attention, she was well known for her stage and costume designs, which were influenced by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, the most innovative of ballet companies which had a long-lasting impact on dance, theatre, and opera productions. In the twenty-first century her work has again risen to the forefront, and she is today considered a leading Russian painter.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Natalia Goncharova
Interactive chart with Natalia Goncharova's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
View Influences Chart

Artists

Paul GauguinPaul Gauguin
Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Henri de Toulouse-LautrecHenri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Robert DelaunayRobert Delaunay

Friends

Mikhail LarionovMikhail Larionov
Olga RozanovaOlga Rozanova
Sergei DiaghilevSergei Diaghilev

Movements

FauvismFauvism
Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism
CubismCubism
OrphismOrphism
Italian FuturismItalian Futurism
Natalia Goncharova
Natalia Goncharova
Years Worked: 1903 - 1950s

Artists

Vladimir TatlinVladimir Tatlin
Kazimir MalevichKazimir Malevich
Wassily KandinskyWassily Kandinsky
Guillaume ApollinaireGuillaume Apollinaire
Lyubov PopovaLyubov Popova

Friends

Aleksandr Shevchenko
Mikhail LarionovMikhail Larionov
Sergei DiaghilevSergei Diaghilev

Movements

RayonismRayonism
SuprematismSuprematism
ConstructivismConstructivism
Feminist ArtFeminist Art
Performance ArtPerformance Art

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Dr. Rebecca Baillie

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Dr. Rebecca Baillie
Available from:
[Accessed ]



By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Useful Resources on Natalia Goncharova

Books

Articles

Videos

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Natalia Goncharova: The Russian Years Recomended resource

By Yevgenia Petrova (Editor)

artworks

Goncharova: The Art and Design of Natalia Goncharova

By Anthony Parton

Russian Modernism between East and West: Natalia Goncharova and the Moscow Avant-Garde Recomended resource

By Jane Ashton Sharp

More Interesting Books about Natalia Goncharova
Did we succeed in explaining the art to you?
If Yes, please tell others about us: