Lot 4
  • 4

Natalia Goncharova

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
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  • Natalia Goncharova
  • oil on canvas
  • 89.5 by 123cm.
  • 35 1/4 by 48 3/8 in.


Mikhail Larionov, Paris (by descent from the artist, his wife, in 1962)
Alexandra Tomilina-Larionova (the widow and second wife of Mikhail Larionov), Paris (by descent from the above in 1964; until 1979)
François Daulte, Lausanne (executor of the estate of Alexandra Tomilina-Larionova)
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner in 1980


(possibly) Moscow, Palais des Arts, Donkey's Tail Exhibition, 1912, no. 5
Moscow, Natalia Goncharova 1900-1913, 1913, no. 490 (this exhibition number is inscribed on the reverse of the canvas)
St. Petersburg, The Art Salon of Nadezhda Dobychina, Goncharova, 1914, no. 56


The canvas is unlined and there is no evidence of retouching under ultra-violet light. This work is in excellent original condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although fresher and more luminous in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

'The Russian provinces are far more cultured than the cities', wrote Ilya Zdanevich in the introduction to his 1913 catalogue of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov's work. Goncharova's 'painterly depictions of peasants exude a potency that has long lain dormant [...], she was a liberator of the Russian soul' (I. Zdanevich, Nataliya Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Moscow, 1913, pp. 9-12). Goncharova's mid-twenties were an extraordinarily productive period and she increasingly spent her summers in the Kaluga countryside where she had been brought up. It was here that she painted her iconic canvases depicting the simplicity and vitality of rural life – shearing sheep, bleaching linen, fishing, bathing, and above all, depictions of the harvest, perhaps the ultimate symbol of the symbiosis of man and nature (fig.1).


Executed at an early stage of Goncharova's transition from a painterly manner akin to Impressionism to Primitivism, the present work can be dated to the period 1905-10. For the young artist, this was a period of exposure to the avant-garde styles that had evolved in Western Europe. At the time she was drawn to Impressionism and Divisionism, influences that were important for freeing her art from being purely representational. Fascinated by both Monet's and Seurat's interest in capturing light that was reflected back from the object to the eye, Goncharova moved away from a realistic depiction of the world around her towards a stronger emphasis on colour, applied in free brushstrokes.


Works such as Haymaking are clearly indebted to Cézanne's rural landscapes (fig. 2) both in subject matter and in the uniformly textured treatment of the paint surface. Haymaking offers a fascinating comparison to Goncharova's later variations on the theme of rural life: vestiges of the Cézannesque plasticity visible in the brushstrokes here would later be replaced by massive, dense blocks of colour. The figures would gradually become more heavyset, the tempo of the scenes would slow, until the figures 'literally freeze in the middle of their pre-ordained activity' (Natalia Goncharova, The Russian Years (exhibition catalogue), St. Petersburg, 2006, p. 15).


The achievement of Goncharova's early years as a painter was in merging influences of Western art with the folk art of her native Russia. Goncharova and her husband, the painter Mikhail Larionov, were the main progenitors of the pre-Revolution Russian avant-garde. Together they organised the Donkey's Tail exhibition held in Moscow in 1912, conceived as an intentional break from European influence and the establishment of an independent Russian school of modern art. At the same time, however, their works were exhibited alongside Der Blaue Reiter in Munich in 1912. The vibrant palette of this work certainly suggests common artistic tendencies with the avant-garde artists working in France and Germany at the time. The quick brushstrokes and contrasted colours are not dissimilar to the style of August Macke, who would later show his works alongside Goncharova and Larionov at the Jack of Diamonds exhibitions.


Unlike Larionov, Goncharova explored primitivist techniques and drew on native sources without a trace of irony, firm in the belief that 'great and serious art cannot help but be national... the foreign must be merged with one's own. Only in this manner will that great force be created that will move art forward' (N. Goncharova, 1911, quoted in Jane Sharp, Russian Modernism Between East and West: Natalia Goncharova and the Moscow Avant-Garde, Cambridge, 2006, p. 271). Similarly persuaded by the merit of turning from Western influences, Zdanevich compared the complex variety of colours that characterises her peasant pictures – 'chrome, vermillion, Veronese green' – to Russian enamel and inlay work: 'such was her attraction to sun and to light that her paintings burn brighter and more fiercely than the dull orb that hangs over her motherland' (I. Zdanevich, op. cit., p. 22).

Fig. 1, Natalia Goncharova, The Harvest, 1908, oil on canvas, The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Fig. 2, Paul Cézanne, La Moisson, circa 1877, oil on canvas, Private Collection