1881–1962 / Russian painter, costume designer and set designer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.