Famous Female Artists: Natalia Goncharova

Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962) was a Russian painter, avant-garde artist, costume designer, writer, illustrator, and set designer. She was born in Tula, Russian to a well-educated family. Her father was an architect, and she was encouraged to pursue her education at the Fourth Women’s Gymnasium. She was a major figure in the art scene of Moscow and invented a new art movement.

Goncharova began to study at the Fourth Women’s Gymnasium in 1892, where she tried to have careers in botany, medicine, zoology, and history before discovering sculpture. Within two years of being accepted into the arts program at the Moscow Institute, she began exhibiting her work in salons and won an award for sculpture. During this time, Goncharova met Mikhail Larionov, who became her life-long partner and later husband. Even though she was allowed to attend the Moscow Institute, she was not allowed to graduate with a diploma, so she withdrew from the school. Goncharova and Larionov began to take a portrait class together, which they and several other students were expelled from because they experimented with modern Western painting styles. The expelled students then founded a radical independent exhibiting group, the Jack of Diamonds, where they showcased innovative modern art. Goncharova helped found an even more experimental exhibiting group that began a new school of Russian modern art separate from other European styles called the Donkey’s Tail.

During one of the Donkey's Tail shows, Goncharova’s artwork was confiscated for being too blasphemous for its use of religious themes portrayed by a woman. Her artwork was heavily influenced by Russian folk art and Russian icons. Later, she and Larionov began to experiment with mixing Cubism and Futurism, and they became the leaders of a new art movement called Rayonism. She wrote several essays and manifestos about Rayonism, and she also gave lectures about Cubo-Futurism. They both later moved to Paris, France where she lived until her death. While living in Paris, she began to design sets for theater and ballet as well as costumes. She died in 1962 from rheumatoid arthritis. Even after her death, she is remembered as one of the two leading figures in Russian Futurism and a founder of the Rayonism art movement.