A tribute to Natalia Goncharova
Words by Laura La Rosa
If you’re researching the works of early twentieth century artists and designers, you’re likely to find copious amounts of content on the great pioneers and trailblazers. That’s if they were men.
For every significant handful of artists, you might see one woman’s name thrown in the mix, but finding extensive details around their narrative and career can prove to be difficult. This week we’re taking a look at Russian designer Natalia Goncharova, who is known for her extensive career as a painter and sculptor, and later as a designer within the theatre space whereby cubo-futurism and primitivism heavily influenced her pieces that graced stage backdrops in all their glory.
Initially influenced by French Post-impressionists, Goncharova’s dedication to futurism and its principles weren’t just applied to her work, rather, it was adopted as an entire way of life in which art and social movements were considered part and parcel for futurists and their comrades alike. After many years studying and practicing as an artist in Russia, Goncharova moved to Paris in 1914 to work exclusively on theatre design with her colleague and lifelong partner Mikhail Larionov. Larionov and Goncharov were said to be inseparable, eventually marrying and then parting only through Goncharov's death in 1962.
What is really interesting about the progression of Goncharova’s work is her ongoing practice whereby she incorporated nationalist-derived elements of futurism into her pieces despite having left her Russia and made a life in Paris with Larionov. Whilst futurists typically rejected many icons of the past, they often showcased and celebrated the history of Russian culture, and did so quite patriotically.
Aside from a steady portfolio and documented blocks of solid years spent finessing her practice, Goncharova’s ability to push forward and break barriers is evident also in the fact that she lived with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an incredibly painful autoimmune disease which would have been all the more difficult to deal with prior to today’s medical advancement. Goncharova’s fierce dedication to her design, art and social movements, despite having RA, points towards her relentless commitment to her work and labour and is mildly reminiscent of the late and great Frida Khalo in terms of resilience and ability to create and progress in the face of chronic pain. In fact, Goncharova passed away largely due to the rheumatoid arthritis and not longer after she produced the 1926 version of The Firebird (L'Oiseau de feu) backdrop – another testament to her level of endurance and perserverance.