MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 1-2 Dec 2010

1 December 2010

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Still Life with Magnolias and a Glass

328. GONCHAROVA, NATALIA 1881-1962

Still Life with Magnolias and a Glass signed twice, once with initials

Oil on canvas, 67 by 56 cm.
150,000-250,000 GBP

Provenance: Anonymous Sale; Russian Pictures, Sotheby's London, 22 May 2002, Lot 176.
Private collection, UK.

Authenticity has been confirmed by Dr. A. Parton.

Still life compositions with the branches and blossoms of magnolia were one of Goncharova’s favourite themes during her French period. The artist loved these evergreen flowering trees of southern climes, with their rather long, pointed leaves and flowers with compact, resilient petals, preferring them to any others. Delighting in the powerful decorative principle that nature has incorporated in them, she painted these flowers a great many times — white ones, pink ones; in vases, in jars, sometimes together with fishes, or cups made of fine china, as though drawing a comparison with the calices of the magnolia florets. She even used them as decoration on screens and wall panels. For this reason it is rather difficult to determine when Still Life with Magnolias and a Glass was painted. The still lifes of Goncharova’s Parisian period are in general hard to date. In the various series of canvases the same subject is handled using different styles at different times, from realistic sketching to almost non-figurative compositions. There was no rigid sequence to the way the artist’s creative work evolved. The two components of her talent — dedication to nature and a gift for decoration — gave rise to two trends within her Parisian period. The huge number of spectacular compositions from nature, with "prickly bouquets" of magnolias, roses and branches of flowering cherry and apple were made every time there was a minute to spare, to train the hand.

When involved at the beginning of the 1920s on the decoration of Serge Koussevitzky’s Parisian mansion and when working, as early as 1930, on a number of ornamental panels for the houses of M. Kuznetsova and M. Viborg but also when painting her numerous screens, Goncharova made a whole series of pencil and gouache sketches of still lifes and compositions on the theme of flowering plants and fruit, including twigs of magnolia. This was a time when her handling of plant forms transmuted them into flat multi-coloured silhouettes, sometimes put on to surfaces of two contrasting colours so that the break between them as it were imitated the line dividing the panels of a folding screen. Later, it was decorative compositions like these that were used to produce a series of stencils. Their "chequered" style (so called in a review for one of Goncharova’s exhibitions), whilst born out of the task of designing decorations, became transformed when applied to work painted at the easel into a treatment that is well known through such paintings of magnolia as Autumn Flowers and Autumn Flowers, Magnolia.

Existing as a constant leitmotif alongside this decorative line in her work, were the small still lifes canvases that Goncharova produced from life in her free time.

The composition of these still life paintings from life frequently differed from one to another only in the detail. If one compares the present paintng with Still life with a Cup, it becomes evident that Goncharova used the same plate and jug of flowers but, in her desire to change the mood without changing the bouquet, not merely changed the tablecloth and background, swapping the cup for a wine glass, but used different colours in her palette and transposed the composition into a different chromatic and emotional key. Still Life with Magnolias and a Glass, which is rendered in dense, tactile paint, is a brighter, more festive version of a composition with exactly the same substantiality. Both this work and its darker counterpart with a cup get across the feeling of the objective form of the glass jug and the sprigs of magnolia standing in it. This also serves to reflect the way the artist generally aspires to life, of which Goncharova herself wrote: "while on a path of depicting delightful images, I am able to find further, new combinations of forms, new combinations of colour ... I am also able to search for abstract formulae, but these are just abstract formulae. The real solution can only be in life itself. An unconscious instinct has been pushing me in this direction."

Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.