Born in 1881 in the Tula Province in central Russia, Natalie Goncharova moved to Moscow in 1892 where she later attended the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. It was here that she met fellow artist Mikhail Larionov who became her lifelong partner and collaborator. She established herself early on as one of the leaders of the Russian avant-garde movement, participating in various significant exhibitions of new art in Moscow, including Donkey's Tail (1912) and a retrospective in 1913 that showed more than 800 of her works. Larionov and Goncharova founded the Jack of Diamonds group, the first independent exhibiting group in Moscow, in 1910 along with artists Wassily Kandinsky, Marianne von Werefkin and Gabriele Münter. Goncharova was also a member of the German expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter.
These early works drew inspiration from a range of sources including the Cubist and Futurist movements; Goncharova described them as Cubo-Futurist to distinguish her style. In collaboration with Larionov, Goncharova coined two more styles around this time termed Neo-Primitivism and Rayonism. Neo-Primitivism was an amalgamation of traditional Russian folk art - including icon painting, signboards and a popular print form known as lubok - with Western modernism. One of Goncharova's most sensational Neo-Primitivist works was The Evangelists (1910-11) which was banned during her 1914 solo exhibition in Moscow for blasphemously portraying the saints as sturdy peasants. The outrage may also have been in part a reaction to a woman engaging in icon painting - a practice traditionally reserved for men. Rayonism on the other hand was an abstract form that looked at the effect of light on different forms. The experimentation that distinguished the early years of Gonchorova's production was defined by her first biographer, Ilia Zdanevich, as vsechestvo, or Everythingism. Gonchorova maintained this innovative approach to art throughout her career, using and combining various media, techniques and styles.
In 1914, Goncharova further expanded her oeuvre by accepting Sergei Diaghilev's invitation to design costumes and sets for the Ballet Russes' performance of Le Coq d'Or (The Golden Cockerel). She continued to create stage designs for Diaghilev until his death in 1929. Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Goncharova and Larionov permanently settled in Paris where they remained involved with the theatre, working with Igor Stravinksy to design for his ballets L'Oiseau de Feu (The Firebird) and Les Noces (The Wedding). During this time, Goncharova concentrated primarily on stage design and book illustration, though she never fully gave up easel painting. She became a French citizen in 1938 and remained there until her death in 1962.
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