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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

"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

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).
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.

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