Natalia Goncharova: 10 facts from the life of the “Amazon of the Russian Avant-Garde”
1. From sculpture to painting: when three days decide everythingThe first to discern artistic genius in Natalia Goncharova was Mikhail Larionov. They had a lot in common: they were born the same year, their families moved to Moscow the same year, the same year the future artists entered the school of painting, sculpture and architecture. There they have met. Goncharova studied to be a sculptor, Larionov was to be a painter. And Larionov was the first to tell Goncharova: you are a painter, "you have eyes for colour, and you are busy with shape. Open your eyes at your own eyes!" this is how Marina Tsvetaeva describes the Natalia’s transition from sculptural to pictorial images.
Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova. 1910 photo (fragment)
2. Everythingness as a creative worldview"Everything that was before me is mine," said Goncharova, who did not limit herself to sources of inspiration, work styles and directions.
3. Scandalous avant-garde The nude is the genre focused on the aesthetic aspect of the naked human body. The term traces its origin to the Latin nudus (“naked, bare”) and is cognate with the French nudité (“nudity”). Read more
Natalia Goncharova could be considered the first Russian avant-garde woman — an unheard combination of concepts in pre-revolutionary Russia. Her first solo exhibition ended in scandal: the artist was arrested, as well as several of her paintings that were declared … "pornographic"!
Natalia Goncharova. "Deity of fertility." 1909−1910 State Tretyakov Gallery
Naked women have been portrayed before, but here, a female artist dared to open woman’s private parts! An unprecedented case hitherto. She didn’t spend much time in prison: Goncharova was acquitted the next day, as the "exhibition was closed" - the formality "hooked" by her lawyer. Note that the exhibition was not positioned as an event open to a wide public, but at the same time, it was held at the Society of Free Aesthetics, one of the most popular cultural venues, which was easy to get to.
4. All for successIn 1913, Natalia Goncharova was preparing her major exhibition at the Art Salon on Bolshaya Dmitrovka in Moscow. The artist and her close friends, including Mikhail Larionov and David Burliuk, "warmed up" the audience in every possible way in anticipation of the opening of the exhibition. Larionov showed his epatage, painting on ladies' naked breasts, colourful futurists walked along the city streets … However, it’s not just the surroundings. Sergei Diaghilev perfectly articulated the peculiarity, freshness and originality of what Goncharova did: "If Goncharova simply rouged her cheeks, I would be bored. Goncharova did not just touch up wrinkles; she painted roses."
5. The hoax biographyEvery escapade was naturally picked up by the press, which was just what she required. But this was not enough for the artist: after the opening of the exhibition in the Art Salon, visitors were presented with a truly bewitching biography of the artist. She allegedly was in Paris and worked under the personal guidance of Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh. She was in Tahiti, then studied from Gauguin. She returned to Russia and created religious paintings in one of the monasteries. And then — Madagascar, excavations, sculptures! The audience gasped, though they believed… While all of this was a pure hoax — Goncharova did not leave Russia at that time. The exhibition featured an unprecedentedly large number of paintings — 761 works by Goncharova over 13 years of work. And all the "PR efforts" were not in vain — they enhanced the effect of the exposition and its popularity, and in general, the exhibition changed people’s attitude not only to Natalya Goncharova, but also to the avant-garde. The Tretyakov Gallery acquired several her paintings — an undoubted success.
6. The Golden Cockerel and 51 telegramsMikhail Fokin, Sergey Diaghilev and Alexander Benois came to Moscow to meet the art of Goncharova and Larionov. It was Benois who suggested that Diaghilev consider Natalia Goncharova as the designer for his The Golden Cockerel ballet. And this meeting was a turning point in the fate of the artists' family. In 1915, Sergey Diaghilev sent 50 telegrams to Natalia Goncharova with cooperation proposals, and was refused. Finally, in the 51st one, he finally invited her and Larionov. And they went — forever, although they did not suspect it.
Photo © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, for theguardian.com
7. Fashion trendsetterThe cousin’s great-granddaughter of the captivating Natalia Pushkina, Goncharova did not shine at the balls, but she proved herself in fashion. It was her hand that the Russian ladies put on shirt dresses, and Goncharova was one of the first to wear trousers and caps, challenging society. In Moscow, Natalia Goncharova made sketches for the Russian Fashion House of Nadezhda Lamanova. After leaving for Europe, in 1924, Natalia collaborated with the then-famous Myrbor fashion house headed by Maria Cuttoli, the wife of French senator. The artist created a series of sketches for Myrbor, such celebrities as Pablo Picasso and Fernand Leger assisted her working on the collections.
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
Photo © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, for theguardian.com
8. Poems that Marina Tsvetaeva did not know aboutMarina Tsvetaeva and Natalia Goncharova met in the summer of 1928 in Paris. Their first meeting was scheduled in the cafe "Le Petit Saint-Benoit" where poets, artists, and journalists often gathered. The meeting and subsequent communication resulted in the "Natalia Goncharova" essay by the admired Tsvetaeva, in which the two fates of two Natalia Goncharovas, the artist and her great-great-grandmother, Alexander Pushkin’s wife, were intertwined. The essay was first published in the Prague magazine Volia Rossii in 1929. However, Tsvetaeva could not even imagine that Natalia Goncharova wrote… poetry. "Take Goncharova — she’s never written poetry, she’s never lived poetry, but she understands because she looks and she sees…" said Tsvetaeva. While there were poems. Natalia versified in both Russian and French. Four notebooks with poetry were discovered in the archives of the Tretyakov Gallery by art critic Olga Furman and first published in the Nashe Nasledie (Our Heritage) magazine in 2014. Here is one of them:
I carry what the
Lord gave me.
I knocked at all the doors
I prayed under the windows
And cried out in all the squares:
I carry the gift of the Lord within me
I carry the wind of spring with me
I carry summer thunderstorms
I carry with me the late autumn’s
And blizzards, and winter’s hoarfrost.
Yet shutters and doors are closed,
Your ears cannot hear,
Eyes cannot see.
Frost shimmers in my hair.
The centuries will tell you
That you are destitute, scorned.
You have neglected God’s gift.