Natalia Goncharova

Natalia Goncharova

Moscow art, and Russian art in general, would certainly not be the same without the masterpieces of avant-garde artist Natalia Goncharova (1881–1962). Her name is associated with a number of Moscow locations, in particular the ancient house in Tryokhprudny LaneRussian: Tryokhprudnyi pereulok or Трёхпрудный переулок, known as Goncharov’s mansionRussian: osobnyak Goncharovykh or особняк Гончаровых. Goncharova once confessed that she would prefer living in the countryside but had no choice but to live in the city due to her occupation. Among the cities she lived in, Moscow definitely held a special place for Goncharova; it is where she established herself as an artist, met her first and only love, and became successful as an artist.


Natalia Goncharova was a descendant of the same noble family as her famous namesake great-grandaunt, the spouse of the great poet Alexander Pushkin. She spent her childhood in Tula GovernorateRussian: Tulskaya guberniya or Тульская губерния, where her father, the Moscow architect Sergey Goncharov, owned a village and two estates, NagaevoRussian: Нагаево and LadyzhinoRussian: Ладыжино. Natasha’s parents brought her to Moscow in 1891, and seven years later the future artist graduated with a silver medal from the 4th Girls’ SchoolRussian: IV zhenskaya gimnaziya or IV женская гимназия (3 Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya StRussian: ulitsa Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya or улица Садовая-Кудринская, currently a foreign language school). At the age of 19, Goncharova was not yet sure whether she had made the right career choice. She enrolled into medical school but it only took her a few days before she became disillusioned. The same year, she decided to join her close friend and enter the history department of Higher Education Ladies’ CoursesRussian: Vysshie zhenskie kursy or Высшие женские курсы (1 Malaya PirogovskayaRussian: Малая Пироговская St, presently the main building of Moscow State Pedagogical UniversityRussian: Moskovskiy gosudarstvennyi pedagogicheskiy universitet or Московский государственный педагогический университет). This time, she lost patience after six months.

In 1901, Goncharova finally started attending the class of impressionist sculptor Pavel Trubetskoy at the sculpture department of the Moscow School of Art, Sculpture and ArchitectureRussian: Moskovskoe uchilische zhivopisi, vayaniya i zodchestva or Московское училище живописи, ваяния и зодчества (21 MyasnitskayaRussian: Мясницкая St, presently the Russian Academy of Art, Sculpture and ArchitectureRussian: Rossiyskaya akademiya zhivopisi, vayaniya i zodchestva or Российская академия живописи, ваяния и зодчества) as a non-matriculated student. The same year, she met painter Mikhail Larionov, with whom she would remain for the next 60 years. The two were bound by love and art; Larionov would always provide Natalia with advice and guidance, and Natalia would always hang onto his words, captivated.


SONY DSCEarly on, Natalia developed a passion for impressionism under the influence of Larionov, which was reflected in the watercolours and pastels she created during her trip to the south of Russia in 1903. These paintings were readily purchased by Nikolay Ryabushinsky and A. Morozov, famous collectors and philanthropists of the time. In 1904, Goncharova changed moved classes and began studying in Konstantin Korovina leading Russian Impressionist painter’s art workshop. She also continued sculpting and was awarded a small silver medal for her animalistic studies in 1904, which was followed by another medal in 1907.

The interest in experimental painting was growing; having attended Paul Gauguin’s retrospective exhibition in Paris in 1906, Natalia Goncharova tried her hand at fauvism, primitivism and cubism. Her paintings were praised at exhibitions held by the Moscow Fellowship of ArtistsRussian: Moskovskoe tovarischestvo khudozhnikov or Московское товарищество художников, at salons of the journal of arts Zolotoe RunoRussian: Золотое руно, and in StefanosRussian: Стефанос. In 1908, she moved into a house at 2A Trekhprudny Ln, built to her father’s design – this became her permanent Moscow address. The house still exists today. By this time, her experience and expertise had reached a level where she was able to begin teaching a class of her own.

In 1909, Natalia Goncharova took to creating sketches for theatre costumes and decorations, a new area for her. The same year, The Wedding of Sobeide was staged by Konstantin Krakht’s studio with Goncharova’s participation. Around the same time, Goncharova’s spectactular frieze sculptures appeared in some Moscow mansions. She also ventured into decorative and applied arts and accepted every single offer, including even drawing wallpaper, as she was eager to try her hand at everything.

Goncharova’s first solo exhibition was held in Moscow on 24 March 1910: the artist presented 22 works at the premises of the art and literary group Free Aesthetics SocietyRussian: Obschestvo svobodnoy estetiki or Общество свободной эстетики (13A Bolshaya DmitrovkaRussian: Большая Дмитровка St). Her unrestrained creative thinking eventually resulted in scandal, as her Model on the Blue BackgroundRussian: Naturschitsa na sinem fone or Натурщица на синем фоне was classified as pornography. Some of her works were confiscated, and Goncharova was brought to trial, but was subsequently acquitted.

Larionov supported Goncharova in everything, and she, in her turn, took part in his initiatives. For example, she joined a group of fellow-thinkers who marched through Moscow with painted faces, resulting in the futuristic movement being born in Moscow. Goncharova’s illustrations accompanied books of futurist poets. At this time, Moscow bore witness to her new works at World of Art and Moscow Salon exhibitions. In addition, Goncharova took part in exhibitions in Rome, London and Berlin.

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Natalia Goncharova_Angels Rushing Stones on the CityIn autumn 1913, the Moscow public attended Goncharova’s largest ever solo exhibition at K. Mikhaylova’s art salonRussian: khudozhestvennyi salon K. Mikhaylovoy or художественный салон К. Михайловой (11 Bolshaya Dmitrovka St), eager to see over 700 works produced during 13 years of her creative career. A monograph catalogue dedicated to Goncharova and Larionov became the highlight of that exhibition. The eccentric couple soon went to Paris: Sergei Diaghileva Russian art critic, patron, ballet impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes invited Natalia to work on his The Golden CockerelRussian: Zolotoy petushok or Золотой петушок, and Mikhail followed his wife. The two artists obtained a permanent exhibition of their own at Paul Guillaume’s Gallery in Paris the next spring and won the approval of the French public.

World War I forced the couple to return to Moscow. Natalia Goncharova responded to what was going on politically with a lithographic series Mystical Images of WarRussian: Misticheskie obrazy voyny or Мистические образы войны, which captured her patriotic spirit. Vsevolod Meyerholda Russian and Soviet theatre director, actor and theatrical producer deeply admired Goncharova’s theatre-related works; the artist undertook to create the production design for Carlo Goldoni’s The Fan at Alexander Tairov’s Kamerny (Chamber) TheatreRussian: Kamernyi teatr A. Tairova or Камерный театр А. Таирова (23 Tverskoy BlvdRussian: Tverskoy bulvar or Тверской бульвар, presently the Moscow Pushkin Drama TheatreRussian: Moskovskiy dramaticheskiy teatr im. A. S. Pushkina or Московский драматический театр им. А. С. Пушкина). The spring of 1915 saw another Exhibition of Art (11 Bolshaya Dmitrovka), which Natalia Goncharova, unknowingly, was taking part in for the last time. Shortly after, Sergei Diaghilev invited the 34-year-old artist and Mikhail Larionov to work permanently at The Russian Seasons in Paris, and Goncharova left Russia.


Третьяковская галерея на Крымском валуThe State Tretyakov GalleryRussian: Tretyakovskaya galereya or Третьяковская галерея keeps a vast collection of Natalia Goncharova’s paintings. Treasures from the museum repositories and other world collections were displayed in the Tretyakov Gallery art halls at 10 Krymsky ValRussian: Крымский вал St as part of the exhibition Between East and WestRussian: Mezhdu Vostokom i Zapadom or Между Востоком и Западом of 16 October 2013, devoted to the 100th anniversary of Goncharova’s landmark exhibition at Mikhaylova’s salon. About 400 of her works were displayed to the public, including her paintings, fashion designs and theatrical sketches. Goncharova’s permanent exhibition in Krymsky Val Street displays over a dozen of her paintings, which reveal the versatility of her work. Marina Tsvetaevaa Russian and Soviet poet described Goncharova generously, highlighting that she was talented in: ‘All themes, all sizes, all artistic methods.’

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