Russia • 1881−1964
It was Larionov who first layed the foundation for the emergence of Russian avant-garde. His rayonism did not become very popular, but everything started from there. Mikhail Larionov encouraged taking risks, he paid attention to the absurd in order to do the great. He demanded to learn from children, denying academics. He was, perhaps, the only one among the artists who lived a long life with a woman equal in talent to him, and in the same sphere. But there was another woman’s remains in Paris cemetery along with Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova.

How it all started

Mikhail Larionov (May 22 (June 3) 1881 - May 10 1964) was born in Tiraspol, and soon the family moved to Zamoskvorechye. He studied painting at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture with artists such as Isaac LevitanValentin Serov and Konstantin Korovin. He entered the school in 1898, and almost immediately met the main woman of his life - Natalia Goncharova (a cousin of the great-granddaughter of Natalie Goncharova, Pushkin’s wife).

As an artist, Larionov began, and very successfully, with impressionist landscapes and still lifes. That period lasted until 1906. Larionov was captivated by Claude Monet, and the student was especially fond of the idea of the Frenchman to depict the Rouen Cathedral at different times of the day and in different lighting conditions. Larionov made a decision to keep up with Monet and painted many variations on the theme of a rickety barn. And the naked women, who looked from Larionov’s canvases, forced the school director to exclude him with the wording “for the molesting effect on comrades”.

In the summer, Larionov left for his native Tiraspol, where he painted his impressionistic landscapes “Acacias in Spring”, “The Garden”, “Flowers”. In some paintings of that period, Larionov’s impending fascination with neo-primitivism (“Bathers at Sunset”) was already seen. Larionov exhibited those paintings in the Society of Russian Watercolorists and in the World of Art. Collectors gladly purchased them, and Sergei Diaghilev even invited him to take part in an exhibition in Paris.

Neo-primitivism in the artist’s work

In 1906, at the Russian exposition of the Autumn Salon in Paris, Larionov's paintings made a splash. The artist was shocked by Paris. It turned out that Monet was the artist of “yesterday”, and the heroes of that time were Vincent van GoghCezanne and Gauguin. From morning to night, Larionov wandered through museums and exhibitions. As surprising as it was, a close acquaintance with European painting made him not a follower, but rather an innovator. He returned to Russia, and the era of Larionov’s neo-primitivism began.

Larionov proclaimed the creators of signage to be the best teachers. Indeed, “Hairdressers” were clearly oriented towards the viewer, they were deliberately demonstrative. Larionov did not smile “to the people” just to be polite, implying the invisible, but explicit “well, we can understand.” He was immersed in the world. Actually, that was one of the features of neo-primitivism - it was by no means a stylization, it was a reflection of a common people’s outlook on life.

There’s truly one important thing that needs to be mentioned here about the artist’s paintings. We don’t “imagine for a moment the soldier’s point of view, having comfortably settled in our secular living room”, but find ourselves near the soldier, being the soldier. The Tretyakov Gallery acquired some of the master’s paintings, which was considered to be an indisputable indicator of success.

Rayonism in paintings by Larionov and body art on the female chest

French innovators had become a springboard for Mikhail Fedorovich. He created a radically new direction – rayonism. Critics, who had been hardly accustomed to his paintings in the new genre of neo-primitivism, were once again at a loss for words. “Where is the captured nature? Where are the moments of life? Where are the beautiful women, after all!? ”, they asked unsuccessfully, and Larionov replied that mankind had already invented a camera for that. He continued painting in the style of Rayonism.

The artist was sure that every person (even a fool), experiencing any sort of feelings, emitted radiant energy. The partner perceived those rays and generated particular responses. Larionov encouraged depicting exactly that. And there it was – the revolutionary influence of Larionov. All the others, one way or another, proceeded from objectivity, and Larinov, with a flick of his hand, left them all behind. “The perception is not of the object itself, but of the sum of the rays from it”, Larionov encouraged to portray and thereby broke the barrier: you could not only portray objects in a strange and dissimilar way, it was then necessary to portray not the objects at all!

The new direction was far from immediately being accepted, and, needless to say, it was hard to please everyone. The most effective PR campaign Larionov and his faithful companion Natalia Goncharova considered the scandal – well, nothing was new under the moon. They organized shocking exhibitions and, as we would say today, performances. In parallel, Larionov was scribbling manifestos one after another, in addition to the programmatic Rayonism (Russian: “Luchism”).

In “The Manifesto addressed to women”, the master encouraged ladies to expose their breasts, which should have been painted or tattooed. The law of men’s fashion in “The Manifesto addressed to men” was recognized to be asymmetry. Wearing mustache was considered to be vulgarity and retrograde. There’s only one mustache needed! And half of the beard should have definitely been shaved off, and the male legs should have been completely bare, tattooed and in sandals (thanks, not in socks).

Soon, at the next exhibition, the “respected public” was offered a new service - the famous artist could paint you. Larionov offered women to paint the parts of the body mentioned in the manifesto, and the ladies stood in line for such a piquant body art...

Emigration, ballet and “family friends”

At the invitation of Sergey Diaghilev in 1914, the most shocking couple of the Russian avant-garde (who registered their relations much later) left for Paris to collaborate with the “Russian Seasons”. For life, but they hadn’t known about it then. It was supposed that they would paint the scenery, but, all of a sudden, Larionov began to show interest in other aspects of the process - he started participating in productions as a set designer and sometimes a screenwriter (his writing the manifestos was not in vain), and eventually as a co-producer-choreographer. And he frequently got into quarrels with Diaghilev, who had already known the value of Larionov’s talent and entrusted him with the education of young dancers. What was the result? Such world-famous dancers as Leonid Myasin and Serg Lifar came out from under the “pen” of Larionov.

In October 1917, Larionov and Goncharova planned to return to Russia. But a lot of things had been planned for that time there as well ... By the 1918, Larionov had understood that in France he would have to linger. He continued working and his enthusiasm for ballet and, to be honest, ballerinas, sometimes pushed aside painting.

Larionov fit perfectly into the world of Parisian bohemia. He had friendly relationships with the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, writer Jean Cocteau, artists Pablo Picasso and Fernand Leger. The bohemian environment was not easily surprised with strange family schemes, so the fact that a close friend of Natalia Goncharova, Orest Rosenfeld, settled in Larionov’s house, and after some time more than Larionov’s close friend Alexandra Tomilina did also stayed there, did not shock anyone. Rosenfeld was an emigrated Russian Menshevik, and Shurochka, as Larionov called her, was the daughter of a Moscow banker who also emigrated to Paris.

Another woman of Mikhail Larionov

Alexandra Tomilina was Larionov’s mistress for 30 years, in fact, a common-law wife. Her apartment was in the same house, a floor below, her existence was not a secret for Natalia Goncharova. They went for a vacation with “family friends”, or just Larionov and Goncharova together did.

Mikhail Larionov married his main muse, Natalia Goncharova, in 1955. That was primarily due to the concern for the inheritance: in the event of the death of one of them, the second inherited all the property. In 1962, Natalia Goncharova died, and Larionov married his faithful Alexandra. The artist had a great dream - he wanted his and Goncharova’s paintings to return to their homeland. During the life of the artist, that did not happen.

In 1962, Mikhail Larionov died, and only in 1978, Alexandra Tomilina issued a testament to the Soviet government. The transfer of the huge archive of Larionov and Goncharova did not take place until 1989, when legislative issues were settled, and a separate room was allocated in the Tretyakov Gallery for the archive of Larionov. Alexandra Tomilina bequeathed to bury her in the grave of Larionov and Goncharova, which was done.

Author: Alena Esaulova
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