Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova (b Nagayevo, Tula province, Russia, 4 June 1881 – d Paris, 17 October 1962) began studying sculpture at the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1898—where she met Mikhail Larionov, who was to become her lifelong partner—before taking up painting. While there she focused on Eastern and Byzantine art, Russian folk art—particularly lubok prints and icon paintings—as well as embroidery and fabric design, all important influences on her Neo-Primitive style.
Included in Diaghilev’s 1906 Russian exhibition at the Salon d’Automne in Paris, she exhibited with many important Russian modernist movements—the Union of Youth, St Petersburg (1910), as co-organiser of the Knave of Diamonds exhibition, Moscow (1910); and the Target exhibition, Moscow (1913).
Goncharova was first commissioned by Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes production of Le Coq d’or in 1913. She later joined the company in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1915, designing for Liturgie. She also redesigned several ballets for Diaghilev—reforming her own Russian folk style to a starkly Futurist style for Les Noces (1923) at the request of Bronislava Nijinska and also changing the 1910 L’Oiseau de feu designs for the 1926 revival.
After de Basil’s reformation of the Ballets Russes, Goncharova was commissioned to create new designs for the 1937 Covent Garden London revival of Le Coq d’or, and costumes and set designs for Cinderella (1938). During the Second World War, Goncharova designed ten ballets for Boris Kniaseff that were shown in South America, and afterward designed for opera and ballet productions in London and Paris.
Self-portrait with yellow lilies 1907 oil on canvas 77 x 58.2 cm
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow © Natalia Goncharova/ADAGP. Licensed by Viscopy, 2010