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Natalia Goncharova

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

Natalia Goncharova Photo
Born: June 21, 1881
Nagaevo, Tula Province, Russia
Died: October 17, 1962
Paris, France
Main
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

Summary of Natalia Goncharova

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

Biography of Natalia Goncharova

Natalia Goncharova Photo

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.

Important Art by Natalia Goncharova

Self-Portrait with Yellow Lilies (1907)

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.

Picking Apples (1909)

Picking Apples (1909)

Heavily influenced by the Golden Fleece exhibition of 1908, this work painted the following year has much in common with two works that Goncharova would have seen there, Cézanne's Bathers (1898) and Matisse's Le Bonheur de Vivre (1905). As in the work by Cézanne, a group of women gather beneath the trees but here they are clothed. The women enjoy the light and airiness of time outdoors, and there is one amourous couple in the fore ground as is also in the painting by Matisse. Overall though, the figures are more pensive and reserved than the reveling pleasure-seekers found in the Frenchman's rainbow-colored tableau.

Goncharova adds a national sentiment with her inclusion of the Russian donkey, and furthermore and most originally, gives the work a religious dimension. The overall meaning of the painting is in fact far removed from Cézanne and Matisse, whose works likely inspired its brushstroke and composition. As the women are picking apples and there exists one male/female couple, the Biblical story of Adam and Eve is evoked. The women, it seems readily take from the forbidden tree of knowledge that led to Adam and Eve's banishment from the Garden of Eden. Indeed, Goncharova painted Pillars of Salt the previous year, illustrating the story of Lot's wife, who looked back at the destroyed city of Sodom after being told not to. The message on both accounts is one of rebellion, and demonstrative that women are not able to be controlled by patriarchal hierarchy.

Peasants dancing [Khorovod (Round Dance)] (1910-11)

Peasants dancing [Khorovod (Round Dance)] (1910-11)

Showing two women and two men, dancing a round dance, on green earth with a dark blue sky behind them, Peasants Dancing is part of The Vintage: Composition in Nine Parts that contains paintings depicting the grape harvest. Arranged together, they were meant to resemble an iconostasis, a backdrop to an Orthodox church altar. The series was paired with The Harvest: Composition in Nine Parts, nine paintings that contained images from the Book of Revelation. The peasants thus dancing become, in effect, earthly saints.

Executed in her Neo-primitive style, the work combines the influence of Matisse's two 1910 works, Dance and Music, with the folk imagery and style of lubki, popular woodcuts that depicted images taken from Russian life and folklore. In making the two dimensional figures more sculptural, Goncharova makes them monumental, and by depicting them in a formation that draws from folk and ecclesiastical imagery, she situates them in the Russian cultural tradition.

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

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

"Natalia Goncharova Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Rebecca Baillie
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First published on 15 Oct 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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