Rayonism + Designs for the Ballets Russes | The Work of Mikhail Larionov

Avant-garde Russian painter Mikhail Fyodorovich Larionov was born at Tiraspol, near Odessa, in the Russian Empire on June 3, 1881. In 1898, Larionov entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture under Isaac Levitan and Valentin Serov. However, he was suspended three times for his radical outlook. Two years later,  Larionov met Natalia Goncharova in 1900, and formed a lifelong relationship with her.

From 1902, Larionov’s art style followed that of Impressionism. But, after a visit to Paris in 1906, Larionov moved into Post-Impressionism and then a Neo-primitive style which derived partly from Russian sign painting. In 1908, he staged the Golden Fleece exhibition in Moscow, which included paintings by international avant-garde artists such as Henri Matisse, Andre Derain, Georges Braque, Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh.

  • Larionov was a founding member of two important Russian artistic groups, Jack of Diamonds, (1909–1911) and; the more radical Donkey’s Tail, (1912–1913). In 1913, Larionov created Rayonism, which was the first creation of near-abstract art in Russia.

In 1915, Larionov left Russia and worked with the ballet owner Sergei Diaghilev in Paris on the productions of the Ballets Russes. Featured here are a theatrical curtain and a costume design for Ballets Russes ‘Midnight Sun‘ (1915); a backdrop setting for Contes Russes (1917); and a watercolour and charcoal sketch for a character’s costume for La Femme du Vieux Bouffon for the ballet ‘Chout’.

Larionov spent the rest of his life in France and obtained French citizenship. He died, aged 82, in the Paris suburb of Fontenay-aux-Roses, on May 10, 1964.

  • In 2001, the Central Bank of Transnistria minted a silver coin honouring Larionov as part of a series of memorable coins called The Outstanding People of Pridnestrovie.

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Source: Garafola, Lynn and Van Norman Baer, Nancy. The Ballets Russes and Its World. Yale University Press, 1999.
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