It should be no surprise that Natalia Goncharova is the most valuable and collectible of all female artists, outselling even Georgia O'Keeffe and Frida Kahlo in auction sales, for she truly was one of the most revolutionary figures of her generation. Her carefully studied painterly technique was a conscious amalgamation of Western modernist styles and traditional Russian and Eastern motifs, and she left behind a complex legacy of production spanning numerous styles, for example Post-Impressionism, Neo-primitivism, Cubism, Futurism and Rayism, which she adapted and reinvented to express her own groundbreaking ideas. The resulting highly-structured canvases are replete with geometric patterns, dynamic colors and thick impasto, and as time progressed her compositions grew increasingly dramatic, marked by a loud yet harmonious palette, bold outlines and a flattened sense of space. Meanwhile, Goncharova was unique in her characteristic choice of subjects, which included peasants, whom she painted at home on her family estate in the rural village of Negaevo, as well as provocative cityscapes and still life scenes.
After devoting her earliest artistic years to the formal study of sculpture, Goncharova began to paint with oils around 1905, and she immediately asserted the brawny power of her unique intellect and technique. Her innovative artistry was clearly the result of sheer talent, yet she also paid careful attention to concurrent developments in France. When she participated in the landmark 1908 Golden Fleece exhibition, she was exposed to works by Western modernist painters such as Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne and Vincent Van Gogh, whose influence had an immediate impact on her oeuvre. She also spent time studying the Post-Impressionist masterpieces in the collections of Moscow merchants Ivan Morozov and Sergei Shchukin, where such paintings as Van Gogh's Night Café in Arles could be found.
As Goncharova's style continued to develop through the late 1900s and early 1910s, the formal intensity of Neo-primitivist and Fauvist aesthetics became particularly apparent in her oeuvre, and while most of her canvases then focused on Russian peasant life, Street in Moscow is distinct for its portrayal of a refined bourgeois cityscape. A well-dressed woman walks along a quiet street, past a shoe store and a horse-drawn carriage with driver. The blue horse at the composition's center prefigures imagery of Der Blaue Reiter group, while the woman appears in exact parallel to the carriage driver, forcing the viewer to consider their figures and social positions in tandem. Meanwhile, Goncharova embeds the image with an amusing commentary on the social classes of the times, for the wealthy woman sports her very own pair of the boots advertised in the background.
Although Street in Moscow may seem to lack the thematic folksiness typical of this early, revolutionary period, it very much underscores Goncharova's interest in traditional Russian folk art, particularly in the depiction of shop signs. Such signs, along with embroidered fabrics, lubok prints and icons were commonly referenced for their influence on the imagery of the Neo-primitivists (see Larionov's Still Life in a Tavern in a Minor Key, lot 17), and the present lot substantiates claims that Goncharova considered their uniquely Russian aesthetic at a very early stage in her career. Thus the importance of this composition cannot be overstated, for it may well represent one of the earliest and most direct examples of truly 'avant-garde' painting—in both Goncharova's oeuvre and the scheme of Russian art history as a whole.
Oil on canvas
St. Petersburg, Art Studio of N.H. Dobytchina, Natalia Goncharova 1900-1913, April-May 1914, no. 131
Düsseldorf, Künstmuseum, Werke aus der Sammlung Costakis, Russische Avantgarde 1910-1930, September-October 1977, no. 21
Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Künstlerinnen der Russischen Avantgarde 1910-1930, December 1979-March 1980, no. 33
Berlin, Berlinischen Galerie, Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Photographic und Architektur, Berlin-Moskau/Moskau-Berlin 1900-1950, September 1995-January 1996, vol. I, no. 29
Moscow, Pushkin Museum, Berlin-Moskau/Moskau-Berlin 1900-1950, March-July 1996, vol. I, no. 29
25 1/2 by 31 in., 65 by 79 cm
D.H. Gordon, Modern Art Exhibitions 1900-1916, vol. II, Munich, 1974, p. 815
Künstmuseum, Werke aus der Sammlung Costakis, Russische Avantgarde 1910-1930, Düsseldorf, 1977, p. 33, illustrated
Galerie Gmurzynska, Künstlerinnen der Russischen Avantegarde 1910-1930, Cologne, 1979-1980, p. 133, illustrated
A.Z. Rubenstein, Russian Avant-Garde Art—The George Costakis Collection, New York, 1981, p. 107, no. 57, illustrated
Bo Tree Productions, "In Praise of Women Artists, 1984" (Calendar), Palo Alto, 1983, reproduced in color for the month of September
Abbeville Press, Inc., "Great Women Painters, 1986" (Calendar), New York, 1985, reproduced in color for the month of February
International Publishing Review, The Art Book, London, 1994, p. 190, illustrated
I. Schlagheck, "Auftritt eines starken Doppels," Art, no. 9, Hamburg, 1995, pp. 76-77, illustrated
I. Antonova and J. Merkert, ed., Berlin-Moskau/Moskau-Berlin 1900-1950, Munich, 1995, p. 67, illustrated
J. Gambrell and C. Phillips, "Red Wedge, Black Wedge," Art in America, New York, December 1995, p. 75, illustrated
A. Remer, Pioneering Spirits, The Lives and Times of Remarkable Women Artists in Western History, Worcester, 1997, p. 99, illustrated
The State Russian Museum (Palace Editions), Natalia Goncharova: The Russian Years, St. Petersburg, 2002, p. 306, illustrated
Private Collection, Moscow
George Costakis, Moscow (later Athens)
Leonard Hutton Galleries, New York