LONDON – Natalia Goncharova, an overlooked artist who in her lifetime featured in collections alongside Pablo Picasso and Paul Gaugin, is the star of the first British retrospective of the Russian at London’s Tate Modern.
The exhibition brings together 160 artworks that range from paintings to graphic design and printmaking with a special area dedicated to a 1913 retrospective that of Goncharova’s work which, at the time, spanned 800 pieces.
“This exhibition is a retrospective exhibition of the works of Natalia Goncharova who was born in Russia in 1881and migrated to France in 1915/16, and what we intend to do here is present over five to six decades of her work in painting, theatrical design, interior design, graphic design and printmaking,” assistant curator Katy Wan told Efe.
“So really ambitious, but I think what we are doing is shining a spotlight on this artist who has frequently been overlooked and showing the diversity of her practice,” she added.
By the age of 32, Goncharova had firmly established herself as the leader of the Russian Avant-Garde and was the star of a massive retrospective of her work.
“In her lifetime she was collected by very prominent collectors such as (Sergei) Shchukin and (Ivan) Morozov who were Russian industrialists and they collected the work of Pablo Picasso, Andre Derain, Paul Gaugin, and really what we are trying to assert with this exhibition is that in her lifetime she was on the same level as these artists so trying to bring her back to that point of recognition,” Wan said.
The show at Tate will offer viewers a glimpse into the vast range of styles Goncharova experimented with.
At the start of her career with paintings such as the “Peasant Woman from Tula Province” (1901) she explored a figurative style and her subjects were often linked to Russian folklore and tradition with very bright use of color, the curator explained.
She started to shift towards European trends such as cubism and Italian futurism and she joined a group called the “Jack of Diamonds,” which was heavily influenced by Paul Cezanne.
To mark this shift the Tate has gathered “Linen,” “Loom + Woman (The Weaver)” and The Forest” which were heavily informed by cubo-futurism and abstraction and were created in 1913.
“It’s really difficult to pinpoint a singular style, but I’d say she uses a lot of very bright colors in her work, she’s really indebted to the folk art of rural Russia in her use of pattern and floral motifs and this is a trace that we see filtering into her work of theatrical design where the large brightly colored flowers makes its appearance in ballets such as ‘Le Coq d’Or’ and the ‘Firebird’,” Wan continued.
Goncharova challenged the conventions of her time as a woman and the type of content she chose to depict.
“The notoriety that she received in her lifetime, not only for being such a prolific artist but her painting of the female nude which was almost unheard of at that time and ironically considered the preserve of male artists only, so the painting of female nudes and of religious subjects is something that was really extraordinary for a woman of her era,” the expert told Efe.
Key to her success was her life-long relationship with artist Mikhail Larionov (1881- 1964).
He tirelessly promoted her work, created manifestoes with her, participating in performances, and in a truly remarkable way harnessing the elements of their work that caught the public’s attention and exploiting them.
The final room of the exhibition explores her work in theatre, costume and set design, in particular with the Ballet Russes spanning from 1914 to the 1950s.
Gonchorova was invited by impresario Sergei Diaghilev to join the Ballet Russes in Paris in 1920.
She went on to travel with the company to Switzerland and Spain and became a key figure in exporting Diaghilev’s exoticized vision of Russia, the curator said.
Her trademark use of bold colors, patterns and decorative leitmotifs became iconic elements of the artist’s work with the Ballet, components that became recurrent staples in her designs and artworks.
“Throughout her lifetime she was nostalgic for the Russia that she had left behind,” Sidlina concluded.
The exhibition runs from June 6 to Sept. 8.