Natalia Goncharova. Rayonism, Blue-Green Forest. 1913. Oil on canvas, 21 1/2 x 19 1/2" (54.6 x 49.5 cm). The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation. © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

“My path is to the original source of all the arts—the East.”

Natalia Goncharova

“The West has shown me one thing—everything that it has comes from the East.” 1 These are the words with which Natalia Goncharova expressed her skepticism toward the prestige that Western art enjoyed in Russia. Though she, too, had been influenced by modern French painting, she now began to see its “insignificance,” declaring, “My path is to the original source of all the arts—the East.” What Goncharova had in mind was the art of vsechestvo (everythingness). The essence of this new art lay in an omnivorous embrace of ancient, modern, Eastern, and Western styles and in the conviction that Cubism was not Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque’s invention but rather something anticipated by ancient Scythian sculpture.

Goncharova was born in Tula, Russia. Her great-grandfather, Sergei Nikolaevich Goncharov, was the brother of Natalia Nikolaevna Goncharova, who married the poet Alexander Pushkin. In 1892, her family moved to Moscow, hoping to improve its financial condition. While at school, Goncharova developed an interest in history, zoology, and botany but eventually decided to pursue art, enrolling at the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture in 1898. There, she met Mikhail Larionov, a key Russian avant-gardist who became her lifelong partner. Their lives and practices evolved in parallel—they guided and encouraged one another as they made forays into new artistic territories.

Goncharova was integral to the Jack of Diamonds, the avant-garde group that Larionov founded to protest the dogmatism of the older generation. Poet Benedikt Livshits remembered that, at one of the public debates on new art organized by the group, she “was like one of the exalted Socialist Revolutionaries, who called to us in 1905 to throw ourselves under the hooves of the Cossack cavalry.”2 Her radicalism elicited polarized reactions. Some argued that her work was, in the final analysis, reactionary. “Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Larionov’s Rayonism, some theory of Firsov’s...where is Natalia Goncharova herself, her artist’s ‘I?’” the critic Jacob Tugendhold wondered. Yet others expressed great enthusiasm, seconding the critic and scholar Abram Efros’s assertion that, “While the vast majority of Russian modernists trudge dolefully along in the wake of foreign schools...Natalia Goncharova epigone.” 3

Mystical Images of War: Fourteen Lithographs (1914) is a series of works whose experimental quality resides in the juxtaposition of an impulse to depict a contemporary event—the First World War, which had broken out in July of that year—and an interest in the formal characteristics of the lubok, a traditional print medium specific to Russia. One of them depicts angels fighting against German airplanes. Goncharova sought to represent a religious faith persisting in the face of an enemy threatening the “Third Rome,” something Russia believed itself to be as the spiritual successor to Constantinople and the new seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Goncharova and Larionov, anticipating the unrest that would follow the war’s conclusion, left for France. The couple would settle there permanently, but Goncharova, as devoted to the pursuit of new art as ever, continued to collaborate with Russian colleagues. In 1930, she designed the cover of the 17th issue of Unreleased Khlebnikov—a serial publication undertaken by the Moscow-based Society of Friends of Velimir Khlebnikov—in honor of the avant-garde poet who was her frequent collaborator and friend.

Da Hyung Jeong, Mellon-Marron Museum Research Consortium Fellow, Department of Architecture and Design

The research for this text was supported by a generous grant from The Modern Women's Fund.

  1. Elena Basner, ed., Natalia Goncharova: The Russian Years (St. Petersburg: Palace Editions, 2002), 291.

  2. Ibid., 13.

  3. Ibid., 295.

Wikipedia entry
Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova (Russian: Ната́лья Серге́евна Гончаро́ва; 3 July 1881 – 17 October 1962) was a Russian avant-garde artist, painter, costume designer, writer, illustrator, and set designer. Goncharova's lifelong partner was fellow Russian avant-garde artist Mikhail Larionov. She was a founding member of both the Jack of Diamonds (1909–1911), Moscow's first radical independent exhibiting group, the more radical Donkey's Tail (1912–1913), and with Larionov invented Rayonism (1912–1914). She was also a member of the German-based art movement Der Blaue Reiter. Born in Russia, she moved to Paris in 1921 and lived there until her death. Her painting vastly influenced the avant-garde in Russia. Her exhibitions held in Moscow and St Petersburg (1913 and 1914) were the first promoting a "new" artist by an independent gallery. When it came to the pre-revolutionary period in Russia, where decorative painting and icons were a secure profession, her modern approach to rendering icons was both transgressive and problematic. She was one of the leading figures in the avant-garde in Russia and carried this influence with her to Paris.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Prominent member of the Russian avant garde before World War I; organized series of major exhibitions in Moscow; her primitivist style was influenced by peasant art, icons, modern French art and Futurism; late painting was in a near-abstract Rayonist style.
Russian, French
Artist, Manufacturer, Costume Designer, Designer, Theatrical Painter, Graphic Designer, Spouse, Graphic Artist, Illustrator, Painter, Pastelist, Pastellist, Sculptor
Natalia Goncharova, Natal'ya Goncharova, Natal'ya Sergeyevna Goncharova, Natalija Sergeevna Goncharova, Nathalie Gontcharova, Natalija Sergeevna Gončarova, Natalija Sergeevna Goncarova, Nataliia Sergeevna Goncharova, Natalya Sergeevna Goncharova, Natalii︠a︡ Sergeevna Goncharova, Natalja Goncjarowa, N. Goncharova, Natalia Gontcharova, Natalija Gončarova, Наталия Сергеевна Гончарова, Natalja Gontscharowa, Nataliia Goncharova, Nathalie S. Gontcharova, Natal'ja Goncarova, Nataliya Sergeevna Goncharova, Natal'ja Sergejevna Gontsjarova, Natalja Sergejevna Gontsjarova, Натaлья Серге́евна Гончарoва, Наталья Сергеевна Гончарова
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


210 works online



  • Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 376 pages

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