Wednesday 28 January 2015

Apelsinia by Natalia Goncharova


Apelsinia by Natalia Goncharova, at the Courtauld Gallery.

I went to see the Jack of Diamonds exhibition on the strength of this painting as it struck a chord with me the minute I saw it.

Goncharova was a Russian avant-garde artist, painter, costume designer, writer, illustrator and set designer. Her early Impressionist period was succeeded from 1906 by a synthesis of the influence of modern French painters such as Gauguin and Matisse with the indigenous traditions of Russian folk art and Byzantine icons. She also designed sets and costumes for a number of Diaghilev's ballets, and became one of the most celebrated designers for the ballet.

She shocked society with her cross dressing and wrote that 'if I clash with society, this occurs only because the latter fails to understand the bases of art and not because of my individual peculiarities, which nobody is obliged to understand'.

This painting is the most expensive work of art by a female artist in history which sold for £4.9 million at Christies in 2007.  It was originally displayed in Goncharova's solo exhibition in Moscow in 1913 as Apelsinia, a place-name she invented. It echoes Gauguin's Tahiti paintings but it's the colours that are so distinctive and give it its dreamlike atmosphere: delicate, pinkish hues evoking a sunset, the women's costumes suggesting scenes of Ancient Greek mythology. I found it very evocative and was touched by it.


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