Lefebvre-Foinet Collection, Paris Sotheby's London, Russian Pictures Including Works on Paper by Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, 1 December 2015,lot 214
In the summer of 1915 Goncharova worked with Sergei Diaghilev and the choreographer Léonide Massine on the ballet Liturgie. The plot was based on the gospel narratives, telling the life of Christ from the Annunciation to the Sermon on the Mount in the form of a mass and the music was to be provided by an Orthodox choir. In place of orchestration, Diaghilev experimented with Gregorian chants interspersed with periods of silence (as in an Orthodox mass), at times reducing the ballet to the sound of the dancers’ feet on a specially constructed double stage. This extreme, anti-Naturalist approach to the music and choreography was reflected in Goncharova’s scenography. Designed within the confines of the very strict conventions of Orthodox iconography, her highly stylised, unusually static costume designs have the striking flattened perspective and symbolic attitudes familiar from Russian icons. These attitudes were the sole means of expression in a production which had no spoken text.
The costumes and the backdrop however were to be lavish. The magnificent stage curtain of an iconostasis for the opening scene of the Annunciation was to be a riot of gold, scarlet and lapis lazuli. The finished version of the offered curtain design is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.