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Rayonism Collage

Started: 1911

Ended: 1914

"Long live the beautiful East!...Long live nationality! Long live the style of rayonist painting that we created - free from concrete forms, existing and developing according to painterly laws."

Natalia Goncharova Signature

Summary of Rayonism

Considered the pinnacle of avant-garde art by the founders Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova, Rayonism (sometimes translated from Russian as Rayism) developed new ways to express energy and movement. From its conception as a subset of Russian Futurism, Rayonism drew from scientific discoveries and the theoretical conceptions of the fourth dimension. The movement was very self-consciously modern, even as it incorporated elements of traditional folk culture. It was also fiercely nationalistic, projecting itself as a distinctly Russian style, despite its obvious inspiration from European movements including Cubism, Orphism, German Expressionism, and Futurism.

Key Ideas

Influenced by both close connections to an international avant-garde and native traditions of Russian art and craft, Rayonism captures the contradictions of Russian culture in the pre-Revolutionary era. It was presented as an unapologetic combination of cosmopolitan and nationalistic impulses, sometimes referred to as Everythingism. This encyclopedic approach to style and subject was considered the essence of the modern pace of life.
The style and subjects of Rayonism reflected contemporary scientific and metaphysical developments. The adoption of transparency and fractured objects was influenced by changing understandings of the material world through the discovery of x-rays and radioactivity. The world no longer could be thought of as purely solid and concrete. This, in turn, reinforced fourth-dimensional theories of space and experience as a continuum of our observable universe. By focusing on light as subject matter, the artists could dissolve objects into their surrounding space; these layers of transparency were thought to be representative of the fourth dimension.
The Rayonist interest in popular culture and materiality (known as faktura) broke with the expectations of fine art. Believing that their work spoke to larger questions of existence and spirituality, the Rayonists aspired to break down the boundaries between art and life. This would be mirrored in the work of the later Suprematist and Constructivist artists, who embraced faktura as a means of constructing spiritually-charged spaces in the post-Revolutionary years.
Rayonism Image


The brainchild of life-long partners Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova, Rayonism synthesized elements of Russian avant-garde painting to create a deliberately modern style. As Russian Futurists associated with the Knave of Diamonds (also known as the Jack of Diamonds) group, they had experimented with Neo-primitivism, which recovered traditional motifs in a style that tried to replicate the naïveté of folk art, along with Russian Cubo-Futurism, which blended Cubist distortion with depictions of movement. In 1912, when Larionov and Goncharova broke with the Knave of Diamonds group to stage The Donkey's Tail exhibition, they rejected the notion of stylistic unity and included a broad range of work. This pluralism would remain part of Rayonism, even as the artists began to define general themes of the style. In part, scientific writings on the discovery of radioactive rays and x-rays were instrumental to their depictions of dynamic time and space (Larionov had most likely read Marie Curie's Radioactivity and The Discovery of Radium, both recently published in Russia).

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