Natalia Goncharova

Natalia Goncharova’s exhibition at the Ateneum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen.

Natalia Goncharova (1881–1962) is known as a central figure in Russian avant-garde art, inspiring experimental artists in both Russia and Western Europe. The exhibition offers a comprehensive overview of the artist’s work from the first four decades of the 20th century. Before coming to the Ateneum, the exhibition is on display at Tate Modern in London and the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence.

Five facts about Goncharova


Natalia Goncharova’s bold and innovative work was influential among her contemporaries, crossing the boundaries that typically existed between 20th-century art forms. The exhibition focuses on the artist’s most innovative period from the early 1900s to the 1920s, when she inspired experimental artists in both Russia and Western Europe. The exhibition features more than one hundred works, including a large number of paintings, but also illustrations, costumes, sketches of set designs, and recordings of ballet performances. Almost all the works in the exhibition will be seen in Finland for the first time.

Goncharova’s extensive artistic work was inspired by folk art and religious icons. Her art was also contradictory: Goncharova could at one moment be taking part in a street performance in Moscow with a painted face, and at the next be working on creating religious art inspired by old icons. In addition to visual art, Goncharova designed costumes and sets for Sergei Diaghilev’s famous Ballets Russes. She also created designs for fashion houses in Moscow and Paris, was involved in avant-garde cinema, and provided illustrations for experimental poems.

The exhibition also includes Tarja Ervasti’s light art Motifs from The Golden Cockerel (Le Coq d’or), 2020. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel was presented in Paris in 1914 as an opera ballet, with choreography by Mikhail Fokin and sets and costumes by Natalia Goncharova. Tarja Ervasti’s installation borrows motifs from Goncharova’s set paintings for the opera’s third act, done in the spirit of Sergei Diaghilev’s lighting design.

The exhibition is organised by the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, Tate Modern in London and Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, in collaboration with State Tretyakov Gallery. The exhibition is curated by Timo Huusko, chief curator at the Ateneum Art Museum; Matthew Gale, head of displays at Tate Modern; and Natalia Sidlina, curator of international art at Tate Modern.

Read more from the exhibition’s press release


Did you know this about Natalia Goncharova?

The queen of the avant-garde

At the beginning of the 20th century, Moscow was one of the most interesting art cities in the world. Natalia Goncharova proclaimed herself the leading figure of the Russian avant-garde before her artist colleagues, who have since risen to fame, including Kazimir Malevich, Marc Chagall or Wassily Kandinsky, by staging a huge private exhibition in Moscow in 1913 at the age of 32. This ambitious display was the first solo exhibition of work by a Russian avant-garde artist – and a woman at that.

* Avant-garde means experimental art that clashes against the established movements of the time.

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The bold rebel

Natalia Goncharova, who was a prominent innovator in the visual arts, fashion and ballet, was not shackled by gender roles or boundaries between art forms. Contemporary critics, however, were especially outraged by a 1910 exhibition and the way in which the female artist portrayed the naked body. The nudes in the exhibition, such as The Deity of Fertility (1909–1910), were confiscated by the police. The artist was charged with exhibiting “corrupt” works of art. Today, the works are held by the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, and some of them are included in the Ateneum exhibition.

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A theatre reformer

In 1914, Natalia Goncharova rose to international fame as a set and costume designer for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Later, she was responsible for the set and costume design for the composer Igor Stravinsky’s ballets The Firebird and The Wedding. Goncharova’s work in the theatre was strongly influenced by Russian folk art. The artist continued to work in the theatre throughout her career. The Ateneum exhibition features costumes and sketches of set designs by Goncharova, and recordings of ballet performances.

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The pioneer of “everythingism”

Natalia Goncharova developed a new abstract art movement, called rayonism, together with her partner Mikhail Larionov. The style evolved from cubism and futurism: the term rayonism refers to the radiation emitted by various objects and its depiction. Goncharova’s enthusiasm also drew on knowledge of the existence of radio waves and X-rays. “Everythingism” aptly captures Goncharova’s diverse oeuvre: in addition to paintings, costumes and sets, she also did performance art, created illustrations for experimental poems, and participated in avant-garde cinema.

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A combiner of Eastern and Western influences

In 1913, Natalia Goncharova stated: “The West has shown me one thing: everything it has is from the East.”

In addition to rayonism, Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov also developed neo-primitivism. This style of painting combined Western modernism with traditional Russian folk-art forms. Neo-primitivist works could include elements from Russian lubok prints, icon painting, and shop signboards. Natalia Goncharova’s diverse work has inspired experimental artists in both Russia and Western Europe.

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Press releases

The Finnish National Gallery closes Ateneum Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and Sinebrychoff Art Museum to stop the spread of the coronavirus

  The three museums will be closed for public as of 30 November 2020. The museums will stay closed until 20 December 2020. Ateneum's museum shop will be open as normal. Entrance to the museum shop is on the Ateneuminkuja side. Visitors over 13…

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