Natalia Goncharova was a name I'd not heard before I saw the posters for the show of her work at Tate Modern and went along. I enjoyed it. That's the headline. Russian impressionist moving into abstract impressionism that is the other headline. It is on until 8th September if this peeks (peaks?) your interest. She paints in a bold vivid style portraying a range of subject as you can see from the quartet above. Angular still life, amusing parrots, charming blossomed path and then an utterly intriguing pair of wrestlers reduced to fighting coloured monsters. My money is on green. This kind of range can be seen throughout the entire show.
I did have all sorts of notes on the woman herself, but I have lost them. All I can remember is that she was Russian, but must have at some point left Russia otherwise she would have never have got away with the religious paintings we see later. But part of the Russianness can be seen in paintings of peasant women dancing, their slightly luminous garments popping out from that green floor (above left) or working in a garden (above right). Goncharova is good at flowers. I like the way she exaggerates the size and makes them more geometric. I also like the way the ground is depicted, almost like a parquet floor.
As you amble through the show (assuming you do, I wonder how many people who read this will go/ have been) you will come across a self portrait of the lady in question, clutching a bunches of flowers (above left) presumably on the rather sensible basis that if you are good at something you should do it as often as possible. It is a surprisingly straightforward self portrait. Neither portentous, angsty or pretentious in the way that many self portraits are.
It is in this main room at the start of the show that one of my favourite paintings resides. It is a winter scene of people gathering wood, Wenceslas style (above right). She has managed to capture a real feeling of cold, with that oppressive stormy sky, and you can really fell the wind blowing. I especially like the over-large snowflakes. Exaggerating the size of things is a trick that Gonchorva does well and I like it. I also like the way the snow flakes are gathered round the tree, almost like they are ice wintery leaves.
Then into the far room and a selection of stunning paintings, all of them on a religious theme. There is a tendency for religious paintings to be, well dull. These are far from dull. It is a bit of a long shot but you can see from the painting of some saint other other (or possibly Jesus) behind a set of candles (above right) is fantastic . The arc of gold at the back echoing the candle of gold at the front, then this angular white robed figure, centre stage and commanding our attention. It is superb.
There are more in this room, and I think it was my favourite room in the whole show. It was certainly the one I spent the most time in. There was this glowing, iconic (literally) golden triptych with a christ like central figure flanked by two angels (above left). Here the use of different sized canvases is part of the composition and we have the return of what appears to be a theme of contrasting green (the robe of the angel on the left) and red (the wings of the angel on the right). This time my money is on red. I love the way those wings glow, as indeed does that halo.
Darker in texture, all the more so the large (empty? - better for being empty I think) scrolls can pop out at you are these four saintly figures (above right). There is a curious device at work here where their heads are all scrunched up at the top of the painting, like they are actually trapped in the frame. It is almost certainly deliberate but I like the idea that she started from the bottom, ran out of room and swearing to herself just decided to go with it. Of such mistake great art is made. I like particularly the highlights on the clothing that bring them out from the background. I am thinking of going again, just to see this room.
could be smoke rings or just holes in the picture, really caught my attention. It is difficult to explain why but it did. Busier, more colourful, more geometric is a picture of some kind of machine (above right). I forget what. The almost transparent lines, really connect this painting together and give it a feeling of motion. Also, and this is the same for all of her paintings, her colours are never just one block of colour, but muted and toned.
they are either dancing people or some kind of band. There is also a very find large hinged screen, standing opposite of this, made of 5 or 6 panels of a similar composition.
Having battered you with her talent in the final room Goncharova delivers a knockout blow with various prints and patterns including designs for costumes and stage backdrops for ballets (like the above left). Including Stravinsky's Fire Bird. I mean really. They are beautiful designs though and I particularly like the floral ones (above right) which reminded me of Japenese Block prints. The show is on until 8th September so you don't have long if you want to go. You should go, you will like it, or you know there is something wrong with you.
Next week I think I will give an oil company some much needed publicity by talking about their portrait award.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.