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Natalia Goncharova, a famous Russian avant-garde artist

Great Russian women

Natalia Goncharova

Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova was a Russian avant-garde artist (Cubo-Futurism), painter, costume designer, writer, illustrator, and set designer. Her great-aunt was Natalia Pushkina, wife of the poet Alexander Pushkin.

However she is remarkable not only because she is the namesake of her famous great-aunt. This woman is also the only female artist in history whose works set a record price at a world auction. Her painting "Picking Apples" was sold in 2007 for $9.8 million at Christie's auction, making Natalia Goncharova the highest selling female artist. The following year, "The Flowers" went under the hammer for $10.8 million, beating her previous record.

"The Cyclist" by Natalia Goncharova

Natalia Goncharova was born in Nagaevo village near Tula, Russia in 1881. She studied sculpture at the Moscow Academy of Art, but turned to painting in 1904. At the school she met Mikhail Larionov, an extraordinary artist who became her husband, life-long companion and manager.

Together they pioneered two key movements: Neo-primitivism and Rayonism. Neo-primitivism incorporated Russian primitive folk art with elements of cubism and futurism, while Rayonism was a style beyond abstraction, time and space, heavily relying on the use of rays of light reflected from objects.

They were the main progenitors of the pre-Revolution Russian avant-garde organising the Donkey's Tail exhibition of 1912, which was conceived the establishment of an independent Russian school of modern art.

Despite her artistic affiliations, Goncharova did not limit herself by specific stylistic conventions. She would mix Futuristic devices such as musical notations, letters, words, with Rayonist principles. It is most obvious in "The Cyclist", the painting that brought her the world fame.

"Evangelists" by Natalia Goncharova

Goncharova drew inspiration for some of her works from Russian folk art and Russian icons. She is the author of a series of religious works and icon-like paintings. Goncharova was also involved with graphic design - writing and illustrating a book in Futurist style.

Natalia Goncharova was a member of the Der Blaue Reiter avant-garde group from its founding in 1911. In 1915 she left Russia and began to design ballet costumes and sets in Geneva. She moved to Paris in 1921 where she designed a number of stage sets of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Later in life, Natalia Goncharova abandoned easel painting for textile design, working along with eminent artists of her time Varvara Stepanova and Liubov Popova.

"Les arbres en fleurs" by Natalia Goncharova

In her last years Goncharova was suffering from arthritis and couldn't raise her arm to the easel. So she painted sitting on her bed with canvass lying flat in front of her. During this time she created a remarkable series of space-themed works inspired by USSR's launching the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite.

Goncharova died in Paris, in 1962. But her legacy is still alive. On February 9, 2011 Natalia Goncharova's famous painting "Les arbres en fleurs" was at Christie's auction for $6.4 million, exceeding the estimated $3.8-$5.3 million. Her work is held in the Museum of Modern Art.

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