The Art of Rayonism

Ana Brdar writes about Natalia Goncharova and The Art of Rayonism.

One of the most prominent painters to come out of Russia in the first half of the 20th century, Natalia Goncharova and her groundbreaking style redefined the path of contemporary and abstract art in Russia. Together with her partner, fellow artists Mikhail Larionov, she originated a new art movement called Rayonism. Even though it was short-lived, this style was hugely influential and helped accelerate the development of avant-garde painting in Russia and Europe.


Natalia Goncharova







Goncharova was born in 1881 into an affluent family in provincial Russia. Once she finished school, she moved to Moscow to study sculpture, where she met Mikhail Larionov – a man who would become her her life-long companion. Goncharova’s artistic focus gradually shifted from sculpture to painting, where her style was heavily influenced by Russian folk art, but also impressionism and fauvism – a combination that set her apart from her contemporaries. Even so, the world of visual art in Russia at the time was incredibly dynamic and diverse, and Goncharova, together with Larionov, was invited to exhibit alongside other Russian artists at the 1906 Salon d’Automne in Paris by the famous art critic and patron, Sergei Diaghilev. Over the next several years, Goncharova was involved in various avant-garde movements and groups, such as Munich’s Der Blaue Raiter, as well as appearing in theatrical performances next to the famous Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. In 1913, Goncharova and Larionov debuted their art movement, Rayonism, at the Target Exhibit in Moscow. This new style entailed abstracting objects through lines that depicted “rays of light”, as opposed to painting their literal form. Among Goncharova’s most notable works from this period are the The Flowers (1912) and The Forest (1913). In 1914, Goncharova relocated to Paris, where she began designing costumes and stage sets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. With the outbreak of the October Revolution in 1917, Goncharova decided to permanently settle in Paris, where she would continue to work alongside Diaghilev until his death in 1929. Even though during ‘20s and ‘30s Goncharova’s work mostly revolved around costume and interior design, she still found time to create and exhibit art in museums and galleries in the United States, Europe and Japan. In 1938, she became a French citizen and in 1955, she and Larionov decided to get married after being together for almost fifty years. Following World War II, Goncharova began to split time between Paris and London, designing sets for theaters in both cities. Inspired by the space race that was happening between the United States and the Soviet Union, Goncharova briefly returned to painting for several years before her death in 1962.

Goncharova’s undisputable talent and controversial lifestyle made her a provocative figure in her home country. She lived with Larionov while remaining unmarried, wore traditionally male attire and performed in one-woman shows and exhibitions, acts which were at the time looked down upon by the Russian church and society. Even though her work was somewhat forgotten in the years following her death, Goncharova’s paintings today are wildly popular on the art market. In 2008, The Flowers was sold at an auction for $10.8 million, setting a record for any female artist.

Featured image: The Flowers