Art: Natalia Goncharova

Natalia Goncharova

The first retrospective of the (take a deep breath) female Russian avant-garde artist, painter, costume designer, writer, illustrator, and set designer Natalia Goncharova is being held in the UK at the Tate Modern and will be available until the 8 September 2019.

When embarking on this art journey and blog around two years ago, I had no idea what my preference would be or what would interest me. It has been a journey of self-discovery and a lot of learning along the way. Though very early on, I knew that I would make the effort to celebrate and learn about the works of female artists. Living in London has meant that I have been able to enjoy the increase in exhibitions to celebrate the works of solo women artists, such as Lee Bul, Dorothea Tanning, Diane Arbus and Lee Krasner just to name a few and may it long continue! For those interested in female artists, I recommend following @thegreatwomenartists on Instagram, where Katy Hessel does an amazing job of introducing up and coming women artists as well as historical figures.

Natalia Goncharova

Born in 1881, Natalia Goncharova grew up in the Tula province, some 200 miles away from Moscow. She was born to a family of “impoverished aristocrats” who made their fortune through textiles, and as a result, this meant that she was familiar with all the stages of textile production, in addition to, nature and farming life. This influenced a lot of her later work through the design of costumes and fashion, as well as her paintings of traditional Russian dress and life.

In Imperial Russia, life and society were dictated by rigid class structures, though Goncharova did not fit into these accepted categories. 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 (her life-long partner) invented Rayonism (1912–1914), see more on this below. She was also a member of the German-based art movement known as Der Blaue Reiter.

Her work greatly influenced the avant-garde in Russia and she was not afraid of being controversial. In 1910, her first solo exhibition was denounced by the press as “disgusting depravation.” Russia, clearly, was not ready for her. At her exhibition, where she displayed the first time her depiction of female nudes ultimately led to the confiscation of her two female nudes and her ‘God(dess) of Fertility painting by the police. This led to her being on trial for violating a law relating to the public display of ‘corrupting’ images but was acquitted. These are currently displayed at the Tate Exhibition.

Goncharova’s experimentation with self-fashioning succeeded in provoking a reaction and brought her considerable attention. Her first retrospective exhibition in 1913 confirmed her as one of the most successful and radical artists, where over 12,000 people visited the exhibition. She was a force to be reckoned with and broke down the barriers of what society deemed what a woman should and should not do. 

“As an aristocrat’s daughter, a radical artist and a woman she always stood apart” – Tate Modern Exhibition Guide

Key Pieces

The exhibition is displayed roughly in chronological order and the key influences on her art during that time. Below are a few key pieces in each room to illustrate how she is a pioneer of “everythingism”.

  • Countryside: Peasant Woman from Tula Province (1910) is a beautiful example of Goncharova’s eye for detail and realism, in particular, textiles which continued to be explored and developed throughout her life. The bold lines contrast with the intricate pattern on the traditional costume making it a very striking portrait.
  • Moscow: Peasants Picking Apples (1911) marks a change in Goncharova’s painting style. Influenced by European painting, realism made way for old colours and minimal and flattened surfaces. On the opposite wall, there is Queen Isabeau (1909) by Picasso, the similarity is clear. I am not actually a fan of this painting as it looks like something that would be included in a children’s book but recognise it is a key piece in her repertoire and emphasises her ability to adopt many different styles.
  • 1913 Exhibition: Gardening (1908) is one of my favourite pieces, where the limited palette reminds me of the French Impressionist style. Goncharova expresses a particular interest in work completed by women, such as them washing linen or harvesting, have a look-out for others in this room.
  • Fashion: From the accounts of people who met Goncharova testify to her unique approach to self-presentation, including painting her face and wearing extravagant outfits. Fashion designer Nadezhda Lamanova commissioned Goncharova to create works for her fashion house, where she chose to use a striking colour palette in Design with birds and flowers. Study for textile design (1925–8)
  • War: In 1914, Goncharova and Larionov arrived in Paris, however, by August it was the outbreak of the First World War. In this room, it displays her series of Mystical Images of War. This was the first time she used lithography to produce these hauntingly beautiful black and white prints. The White Eagle, Maiden on the Beast and Angels and Aeroplanes are just a few of my favourites
  • Art and Religion: central to the development of Russian art is devotional religious paintings, however, this was an exclusively male practice. Goncharova entered a challenging territory when she applied her own approach using simplified forms. Many at the time thought it was inappropriate and yet were acknowledged at the time to being some of her strongest works. My favourite was Christ the Saviour (1910-11)
  •  Modernism: this is the room that introduces the new movement that she created with Larinov Rayonism, look out for the colourful and electric painting Dynamo Machine (1913)
  • Paris: In 1919, Goncharova moved to a flat in Paris where she would remain for the rest of her life. Having a studio enabled her to return to large scale works, including the beautiful Spanish Woman with a Fan (1925-9) and Spring (1927-8) which is stretched over a frame creating a free-standing screen.
  • Theatre: the final room brings together Goncharova’s sketches, costumes and set designs from several ballet productions. The costumes in this room are splendid and not to be missed, my favourite being The Firebird which is one of the most enduring productions in the Ballet Russes repertoire.

Rayonism

Rayonism, or rayism, was based on the effect of light on landscape or cityscapes. Goncharova and Larionov developed a new modern style to express energy and movement. It is a subset of Russian Futurism and the movement was inspired by scientific understanding of the material world through x-rays and radioactivity, as well as, the fourth dimension.

Extraordinary Pioneer of Everythingism

The exhibition celebrated an extraordinary woman who defied conventions and had her own voice during a time when many others wanted to silence her. Highly recommended, 3.5 out of 5 pineapples. As always, I would love to hear what you think so please do leave a comment below!

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

 

Art: Christian Dior – Designer of Dreams

Dior

Dior. For many women, the four-letter word exudes iconic, feminine, aspirational – the list can go on. It is easy to understand when the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (“V&A”) announced their upcoming Christian Dior – Designer of Dreams exhibition there was much furore; so much so that the exhibition had to be extended to 1 September 2019, and even then, the tickets are all sold out

So far, there has been a mixed reception with some critics noting “style over substance” highlighting the display failed to set the scene and did not match the history of Dior with the social economic climate of the times. Others, have showered it with praise and described it as a wonderful show of Monsieur Dior’s fairytale; some even go as far to describe it as “the greatest fashion show the V&A has ever staged”.

Given the difficulty in obtaining the tickets to the exhibition, expectations were high. Located in the newly built and cavernous Sainsbury’s Gallery, with structural curves to die for. The new space was a welcomed changed to previous fashion exhibitions, such as Balencigia and Fashioned from Nature, where they were located in a dark corner of the museum.

The start of the exhibition centres around the iconic New Look with the Bar Suit. A white boxy suit jacket with an impossibly cinched (pretty sure it was the width of my one thigh!) and the voluminous skirts, which was a dramatic departure from the fabric rationing during the war period. The exhibition vaguely moves from the history of Dior fashion house starting with 1946 at Avenue Montaigne and ending with the final runway piece of 2019 by the inspirational Maria Grazia Chiuri. Personally, she is my favourite creative director in the history Dior, with her debut giving tribute to the iconic Dior “New Look”. Noting sadly that my body shape would ever fit into the ultra nipped waists of the look, one can still dream of the whimsical skirts of tulle.

As you walk through the exhibition navigating between dimly lit rooms to the beautifully decorated, such as the “flower” room by the design studio Wanda Barcelona and the finale Ball Room, one can’t help to be mesmerised. However, it was difficult to follow the theme throughout as each room seemed independent and did not flow onto the next. Each room was aesthetically pleasing and each garment beautifully displayed but it failed to share much detail on the pieces. The overall experience felt like an extravagant fashion show with mannequins, where guests had to walk around and fight for a closer view. Ultimately, the exhibition failed to tell a story.

Despite this, undoubtedly, there were elements of the show which made the visit worthwhile. It was an opportunity to see these beautiful garments up close and admire the details, where one would not have had a chance otherwise. The innovative styles, the intricate stitching and the structure of garments honour not only the designers but the ateliers who turned sketches to exquisite and alluring pieces of art. For those who have tickets to the exhibition, you have plenty to look forward to and it is worth the wait!

The Pineapple Chicken gives the exhibition a 4 out of 5 pineapples. Have any of you been yet? What were your favourite pieces? As always, I would love to hear from you!

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

P.S The Little Big Movement is now back online! Check him out here!