Goncharova's designs for the 1914 production of the opera-ballet Le Coq d’or marked her first collaboration with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. Drawing heavily on the images of Old Russia, the festive reds and yellows of Russian icon painting and the tradition of lubok prints, the set and costume designs for the 1914 production and the 1937 revival were amongst her most imaginative works for the theatre. Diaghilev signed the contract with Goncharova in 1913 and already in January 1914 the impresario commented: 'Goncharova's sketches are wonderful! They have some, though not excessive, woodcut style features, and, most importantly, they offer amazing colour solutions and fabulous intricacy' (Sergei Diagilev i russkoe iskusstvo, Moscow, 1982, p.236).
The premiere of the ballet was a resounding success and Prince Volkonsky exclaimed that 'if the walls of the French Grand Opera had vocal organs, they would have gasped with surprise at the sight of what was being shown there on 21 May 1914' (ibid, p.465). Goncharova's opulent designs won praise, transforming her, as she herself admitted, 'from an ordinary Moscow painter into a scenographer who travelled around the world' (quoted in Natalia Goncharova. Between East and West, p.53). In June later that year her work, including the designs for Le Coq d’or, was shown at the Galerie Paul Guillaume and Apollinaire wrote a flattering introduction to the catalogue.