In 500 Words - Rayonist Lilies by Natalia Goncharova

A painter, writer, illustrator and set and costume designer, Russian artist Natalia Goncharova is one of the most respected figures in modern art.

Rayonist Littlies, Natalia Goncharova, 1913
Rayonist Littlies, Natalia Goncharova, 1913

Balancing the profane with the sacrosanct, Goncharova was a fundemental member of the Russian avant-garde, a movement rooted in the ferocious melding of visual styles and mercurial ideologies. Born into an aristocratic family in 1881 in the town of Nagaevo, Russia, Goncharova joined the Sculpture Faculty of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1901 where she studied with Pavel Trubetskoy, a sculptor who was influenced by the Impressionist movement.


In 1908, Goncharova exhibited work at the Golden Fleece exhibition. There she encountered works by Matisse, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Cezanne. Influenced by these artists, Goncharova shifted to drawing on traditional folk art for inspiration in her own artwork, melding influences from Western- European painters with distinctively Russian motifs and philosophies.


In 1910, Goncharova became one of the founding members of the Jack of Diamonds, Moscow's first exhibiting group of avant-garde Russian painters. That same year, at her first solo exhibition, several of her paintings were confiscated by the police. The press labelled her artworks as "disgusting deprivation" and Goncharova was put on trial for pornography, though she was later acquitted. In 1911, she began exhibiting with the German-based international collective Der Blaue Reiter, a group known for merging spirituality with expressive freedom.


With the most radical members of the Jack of Diamonds group, Goncharova and her partner Mikhail Larionov formed a new artist collective in 1912 called Donkey's Tail. While involved with the group, Goncharova found inspiration in her love for the icons and spirituality of the Orthodox church. Yet despite her fealty, the Church condemned her art and her personal ethics.


Goncharova and Larionov joined Hylaea, a literary group of Russian Futurists which had developed independently of Italian Futurism. Shortly after, the couple solidified their notion of Rayonism, a movement characterized by an abstract visual splintering applied to disrupt and extend the visuality of objects into the surrounding space. The Rayonist Manifesto was published in 1913, the same year Goncharova painted Rayonist Lilies.


Goncharova, Larionov and other Rayonists sought to visually deconstruct rays of light. Peer into a prism and the dimensionality of an object will appear to split, duplicate, minimise, or swell. In Goncharova’s Rayonist Lilies, each lily head becomes a star in a luminescence similar to the effect of squinting at streetlights in the night. The space surrounding the lilies becomes a thousand volatile tectonics grinding against the other and vases angle off into variegated gems.


The objects that we see in life play no role here, but that which is the essence of painting itself can be shown here best of all

Although Rayonism ended with the start of World War I, the movement’s life was a critical step towards the development of Russian abstract art. Freeing artists from singular artistic formalities, Goncharova and her Rayonism slackened the conservative grasp on artistic convention.


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