One of a series of paintings known as Les Espagnoles, the present oil depicts two Spanish women adorned in the splendour of their elaborate native dress. This was a theme that obsessed Goncharova throughout much of the height of her fame and popularity in the 1920s and early 1930s.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Goncharova returned to Russia and engaged in artistic work in support of her homeland's conflict with Germany. By 1915, however, disillusioned, like many people with the seemingly endless and even pointless nature of the war, she and her husband Larionov, left Russia to travel with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes in Switzerland. Shortly afterwards, on a tour of Spain with the Ballet, Goncharova became captivated by the mantilla of Spanish women and these along with the elaborate traditional dress of Spanish women inspired the sequence of paintings known as the Espagnoles. Soon afterwards Goncharova settled in Paris, where despite continuing to work as painter, her work for the Ballet Russes led to her fame as the foremost avant-garde stage-designer of the age.
One of the earlier Espagnoles, this work is a full-length life-size portrait of two Spanish women almost swamped by the elaborate lacework of their costume. Rendered in a stylized Cubistic manner that Goncharova had evolved over a period of time, the two women are presented frontally almost in the manner of icons -bold and decorative manifestations of the exotic visual tradition of their homeland. Almost symmetrical in her stylized portrayal of these elongated figures, the elegant and sharp angular interplay of decorative cubist form in this work generates a sumptuous sense of surface akin to the elaborate décor and design of Goncharova's celebrated stage sets. Often incorporating Cubist, Futurist as well as Egyptian and even Chinese elements, this work is one of a series of panel-like paintings that grew into an extended sequence of works on the theme and at least two polyptychs that Goncharova made in the early 1920s.
Oil on canvas
Property from a Private American Collection
Signed 'N. Gontcharova' (lower right)
1910s, Paintings, canvas, France, Impressionist, figures
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
75¾ x 34 in. (192.3 x 87.5 cm.)
Kaplan Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owners, circa 1959.