Natalia Goncharova

1881–1962 / Russian painter, costume designer and set designer
“The West has shown me one thing – everything that it has comes from the East.”
Natalja S. Gontscharowa

Natalia Goncharova’s first solo exhibition opened in Moscow in 1913. With an astonishing collection of 761 pieces, the 32-year-old artist wowed visitors and was celebrated by the press as a rising star of the Russian avant-garde. 

Natalja Gontscharowa »Komposition«, 1913-14
© VG BILDKUNST 2021/ Courtesy Centre Pompidou, Foto: KOBERSTEIN FILM
In a class of her own

Goncharova was a prolific artist whose pleasure in experimenting knew no bounds. She blended Christian motifs and elements from Russian folk art with cubism and futurism. She produced geometric, abstract works, only to return to an almost traditional style – she painted the way she wanted. Goncharova’s oeuvre is in a class of its own.

Natalja Gontscharowa »Ringer«, 1909-10
© VG BILDKUNST 2021/ Courtesy Centre Pompidou, Foto: KOBERSTEIN FILM

The self-assured artist expressed her views in articles and manifestos. She co-founded exhibiting groups, and made shocking appearances with her face and body daubed in paint. In 1910 she caused a particular scandal with her cubist nude “God of Fertility”, which was confiscated by the police.

Natalja Gontscharowa »Radfahrer«, 1913
© bpk / Roman Beniaminson

The international art scene quickly became aware of the radical avant-garde woman artist; exhibitions and commissions in Europe followed. Back in Russia, the drastic changes in the wake of the 1917 October Revolution led to a rejection of the avant-garde, which had so recently been celebrated. Goncharova was working in France at the time, and so she remained in exile in Paris, along with her partner Mikhail Larionov. Here, the multi-talented artist worked for the opera and theatre, designing masterful costumes and sets for Sergei Diaghilev’s prestigious Ballets Russes.

Natalja Gontscharowa, Kostümdesign »Night on the Bare Mountain«, 1924
Courtesy Library of Congress, Music Division.
Natalja Gontscharowa
© ullstein bild – Roger-Viollet

Goncharova remained committed to her modernist approach until the end of her life, channelling it into a remarkably diverse artistic spectrum. She died in Paris in 1962. Despite the great appeal of her art during her lifetime, her works subsequently remained forgotten for decades.

Natalja Gontscharowa »Dame mit Hut«, 1916-20
© VG BILDKUNST 2021/ Courtesy Centre Pompidou, Foto: KOBERSTEIN FILM

That changed suddenly in 2007, when one of her paintings sold for almost $10 million – the record for any piece by a woman. Since then, she has been one of the most expensive 20th century women artists at auction. In 2013, the first retrospective of Goncharova’s work finally went on display at the Tretyakov Gallery, and the world began rediscovering this pioneer of the Russian avant-garde. In 2019, Tate Modern in London presented a major exhibition of her work, with others following in Florence and Helsinki.

Natalja Gontscharowa & Michail Larionow, Paris 1956
© ullstein bild – Imagno