Artists & Designers

Natalia Goncharova (Russian, 1881–1962)

Born in Negayevo in 1881, Natalia Goncharova was a pioneer of Russian avant-garde art. Her father was an architect and graduate of the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture—the same school where she began her early training as a sculptor from around 1898 to 1910. It was at the Moscow Institute where she first met painter Mikhail Larionov, her instructor and eventual lifelong partner. The two soon shared a studio and living quarters, and spent much of their life supporting each other’s careers. Goncharova was highly influenced by French avant-garde artists when she first exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1906—a venue that had recently borne witness to the birth of Fauvism—and at the 1908 Golden Fleece exhibition in Moscow. Like Gabriele Münter, Goncharova was also a member of the German Expressionist group The Blue Rider, which existed until 1914.

In 1910, Goncharova and Larionov organized an early avant-garde exhibiting group called the Jack of Diamonds, though they soon withdrew from the group after accusing its members of decadence and conservatism. In 1912, they formed a competing exhibition group known as Donkey’s Tail. Both collectives explored new artistic movements throughout Europe and Russia, familiarizing Goncharova with Neo-Primitivism, Cubism, Fauvism, and Futurism. Goncharova drew on the formal traditions of European modernism, Russian decorative art, and Byzantine models to create new avenues of production. With Larionov, she eventually invented Rayism, a style influenced by technology and modernity in which artists created spatial forms through the reflection of rays of light and color off various objects.

Goncharova’s solo exhibitions in 1910, 1913, and 1914 were landmarks in the history of avant-garde controversies. During this period, she was tried along with several members of the Society of Free Aesthetics in Moscow for producing so-called pornography, her religious paintings were often removed by police from exhibitions, and her work was briefly banned. Goncharova achieved notoriety as a radical painter and, in 1913, was the first Russian woman to have a full-scale retrospective featuring more than 700 works in Moscow.

Goncharova and Larionov traveled to Paris in 1914 to create set designs for Sergei Diaghilev’s ballet productions, and the Galerie Paul Guillaume held a joint exhibition of their work in the same year. By 1917 the couple settled permanently in Paris and Goncharova continued to paint, design theatrical productions, teach, and illustrate Cubo-Futurist books with well-known Russian poets such as Alexei Kruchenykh. She eventually married Larionov in 1955 in order to secure their estates and died seven years later after suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis that left her almost incapable of painting. Though she was unrecognized and impoverished later in life, Goncharova left a legacy as a pioneer of Cubo-Futurism and Rayism and was one of the leaders of Russian modernism.

Excerpt from

Kelsey Martin and Nicole Myers, DMA exhibition text Women Artists in Europe from the Monarchy to Modernism, 2018.

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