(Above: Ballet costume for a seahorse for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe production of Sadko, ca. 1916 by Natalia Goncharova. Costume: Silk-cotton satin lamé, paint, wire, wadding: cape, 166cm headdress 83 x60 x 25cm).
Russian avant-garde artist, painter, costume designer, writer, illustrator and set designer Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova was born on June 4, 1881 in Tula. Her great-aunt was the wife of Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin. By 1891 the family moved to Moscow.
In 1901, at the age of 20 Natalia entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture where she met fellow student, Mikhail Larionov and together they formed a lifelong relationship and became the founding members of two important Russian artistic groups Jack of Diamonds (1909–1911) and the more radical Donkey’s Tail (1912–13).
The Donkey’s Tail was conceived as an intentional break from European art influence and the establishment of an independent Russian school of modern art. However, the influence of Russian Futurism is much in evidence in Goncharova’s later paintings. Initially preoccupied with icon painting and the primitivism of ethnic Russian folk-art, Goncharova became famous in Russia for her Futurist work such as The Cyclist and her later Rayonist works.
- As leaders of the Moscow Futurists, the group organised provocative lecture evenings in the same vein as their Italian counterparts.
- Goncharova was also involved with graphic design—writing and illustrating a book in Futurist style. She began exhibiting at the Salon d’Automne (Exposition de L’art Russe) in 1906.
- By 1915, she began to design ballet costumes and sets in Geneva, including designs commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev for theatrical costumes.
Goncharova moved to Paris in 1921, where she designed a number of stage sets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. She also exhibited at the Salon des Tuileries and the Salon des Indépendants.
The plot for Sadko is based upon the epic Russian folk poem set in Novgorod where Sadko, an impoverished musician, leaves his wife in search of money. Whilst playing his music by the shores of a Lake, he captures the heart of Princess Volkova, a daughter of the King of the Sea. The ballet revolves around the “The Kingdom Under the Sea“. He marries her and the wedding party includes many of the varieties of sea animals, such as the Seahorse and the Squid. But like all good folk tales, he goes back to his wife on land and the Princess turns into the Volkova River.
Between 1922-26, Goncharova created fashion designs for Marie Cuttoli’s shop, Maison Myrbor on the Rue Vincent, Paris. Her richly embroidered and appliquéd dress designs were strongly influenced by Russian folk art, Byzantine mosaic and her work for the Ballets Russes. In 1938, Goncharova became a French citizen. In 1955 she and Larionov finally married.
Goncharova died on October 17, 1962 in Paris.