Natalia Goncharova was vital to the activities of the avant-garde artists and poets in Russia in the first decades of the twentieth century. She organized exhibitions of contemporary Russian painting, engaged in public debates, and wrote manifestos about modern art. In addition to painting, she contributed to nearly twenty early Futurist books and designed sets for more than thirty plays and ballets, many of which took her to Paris, where she settled in 1919.
Although aware of European movements such as Cubism and Futurism, Goncharova sought to create an art that reflected Russia’s history and artistic traditions. With her husband and life-long artistic collaborator Mikhail Larionov, Goncharova first worked in a style called Neo-Primitivism, which was marked by crude forms, an absence of perspective, and distorted proportions. For inspiration she looked to her native Russian art forms such as the lubok (inexpensive, popular prints), icons, and folk and children’s art. These influences are visible in her bold designs for A Game in Hell, a narrative poem written in a consciously naive style that describes a card game between devils and sinners in Hell.
After developing an abstract painting style with Larionov called Rayism, Goncharova became increasingly involved in theater and ballet design. Although her career in this field was flourishing in Paris, she returned to Moscow in 1914 following the outbreak of war in Russia. There she was inspired to create Mystical Images of War, a portfolio that follows a long tradition of print cycles on this theme. Here she drew on motifs from Russian religion, mythology, and folklore and combined them with realistic renderings of, for example, military uniforms of the day. The result is a timeless portrait of war, past and present.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Sarah Suzuki, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 79.