Provenance:Russian Pictures, Sotheby’s London, 20 November 2002, lot 188.
Private collection, Switzerland.
Vases of flowers were coming to be a constant motif in the work of Natalia Goncharova in the 1920s, when the age of avant-garde experiments was gradually giving way to various forms of Realism, Neo-Classicism and unfettered painterliness. From then on, until the end of her life, she worked mainly on theatre sets, decorative panels and numerous still lifes.
Between the 1930s and 1950s, Goncharova regularly painted a series of compositions with “prickly” bunches of flowers — magnolias, chrysanthemums and branches of blossoming cherry and apple trees, sometimes drawing on more abstract forms, at other times, on the contrary, displaying a realistic commitment to nature. The still life Flowers in a Jug, presented for auction, also provides a typical example of this commitment. Painted in dense, almost palpable colours, the picture conveys a sense of the shape of the glass jug and the plants standing in it with an equal degree of “materiality” and reflects Goncharova’s overall penchant for “nature”.
The meticulous treatment of nature in this work is combined with a studied decorativism and a pictorial complexity that the artist sometimes deliberately seeks to produce when spending a long time putting the finishing touches to her pictures. “I want the painting to be complex and the shape stronger,” she writes in a letter to Mikhail Larionov in 1935. Indeed, the bunch of flowers in the picture certainly does seem to be something of an intellectual construct rather than a natural arrangement — an imaginary composition that is also unrealistic, since it is too tall for its jug. Its petals, flower heads and branching stems intertwine to form a dense carpet, woven with short, supple brushstrokes, and create the illusion of the conventional, decorative reality that typifies most of Goncharova’s works in the second half of her life.