1 December 2010
Espagnole in White signed, also further signed on the reverse and stretcher, late 1920s
Oil on canvas, 81 by 45 cm.
Provenance: The estate of Nicholas Bancroft, USA.
Anonymous Sale; Russian Pictures, Sotheby's London, 19 November 2003, Lot 176. Private collection, UK.
Authenticity has been confirmed by Dr. Anthony Parton.
Literature: A. Parton, Goncharova: The Art and Design of Natalia Goncharova, Anique Collectors' Club, 2010, p. 443, plate 581, illustrated.
Goncharova’s Espagnole in White dates from the late 1920s and is an excellent example of her work from this period. Goncharova began to paint the subject of the espagnole whilst working for Diaghilev in Spain in 1916. Goncharova had been captivated by the colour and decorative qualities of the costumes worn by the Spanish women and the flamenco dancers and when Diaghilev decided to stage two ballets on Spanish themes, Triana and Espana, Goncharova was his first choice as the designer. At this time Goncharova made dozens of brightly coloured costume designs for the ballets but when Diaghilev cancelled plans for the two productions Goncharova decided to take the theme of the espagnole into her painterly work. Initially, the theme was treated in a highly abstract way. The paintings of 1916–1919 are Cubo-Futurist in style and brightly coloured, using bold diagonals to emphasize the rhythms and movement of the dancer and large decorative planes to express the colour and decoration. Under the impact of what has been known as ‘the Call to Order’ in the years after the war, Goncharova like many avant-garde artists of the period began to produce more restrained images in which, though treated in an abstract and stylised manner, the cohesive figure of the espagnole comes more to the fore. Towards the end of the 1920s, however, Goncharova’s style was beginning to change. As economic circumstances worsened she retreated to a form of naturalism and this is evident in Espagnole in White.
However there is more to works such as this than meet the eye. Whilst ostensibly ‘naturalistic’ there is something of an otherworldly quality to these paintings. The espagnoles are presented in hieratic poses and are no longer dressed in boldy coloured costumes but in restrained palettes of whites and creams. There seems little doubt that these paintings operate at a symbolic level. In a text entitled Les Espangoles that was written at this time Goncharova remarks that works of a naturalistic appearance such as this are not to be read as literal interpretations of actual types of Spanish women to be found in say Madrid, Barcelona or Seville but rather as ‘abstractions from nature the purpose of which is to enlarge our vision and understanding of the world’. In this way these later espagnoles resemble the hieratic figures of the saints to be found in the Russian icons. In terms of its painterly qualities Espagnole in White is clearly a major work of the period. It is reproduced in colour in my recent critical monograph Goncharova: The Art and Design of Natalia Goncharova, Antique Collectors’s Club, UK, 2010, page 443, plate 581.
Dr Anthony Parton, Durham University
Espagnole in White presented here for auction is an important work by Natalia Goncharova belonging to her series of Spanish women. Spanish women are the chief subject of the work Natalia Goncharova created between the middle of the second decade of the twentieth century and the 1930s — "Goncharova’s plain-chant", as the enraptured Marina Tsvetayeva called them in 1929. These invented portraits, born of the artist’s imagination and gradually ousting real portrait painting from the sphere of Goncharova’s interests, brought together the best features of her artistic talent — a tendency towards the monumental and a highly cultivated decorativism. This last quality is exemplified in Espagnole in White.
Goncharova first turned to Spanish themes in 1916, during her time working for Diaghilev’s company on the design for the ballet productions Triana to the music of Isaac Albéniz and Espana to the Spanish Rhapsody by Ravel. To prepare for the staging of these, the whole troupe, accompanied by Goncharova and Larionov, set off for San Sebastián in Spain. As Goncharova wrote in her memoirs, austerity and severity in Spanish art accompanied by "the most magnificent flowering of decorative forms" which initally struck her, turned out to be close to her own nature. The costume designs for these unrealised productions and also the artist’s sketches from life made for these designs formed the basis for a large number of coloured graphic compositions, panels, screens, posters and, most importantly, decorative compositions depicting Spanish women, executed between 1915 and early 1920s. Among easel paintings executed during this period are the tall narrow panels of Spanish women which may have formed part of the decor in Serge Koussevitzky’s mansion. In 1923–1924 the artist created her famous Spanish pentaptych, one of which is now in the State Tretyakov Gallery, and the others in the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. In the mid-1920s Goncharova produced designs and marionettes for A Spanish Moment — a short play for Yulia Sazonova-Slonimskaya’s puppet theatre that was staged during the Bal Banal in Paris. In the wake of this work she created the large compositions in charcoal of Spanish women and the picturesque espagnoles with the characteristic cutting out of semi-circular shapes (on flat marionettes, shapes like this were cut out where the figures had articulated joints).
At that time the espagnoles literally haunted Goncharova, similarly to the way ethnographic topics haunted her in early 1910s. In the espagnoles of the 1920s, ethnographic aspects have disappeared and design had come to the fore. Goncharova constructed the figures of her espagnoles like certain edifices in which nature is almost concealed, transformed and multiplied repeatedly to become her overriding creative purpose.
In the early 1930s Goncharova did in fact paint half-length figures of Spanish women in lace with typical decorative "wire" braid and geometrical faces that recall those depicted on medieval stained glass windows. Simultaneously, the artist produced endless replicas of her early panels, sketches and designs for compositions of Spanish women executed in various styles. The last of these were probably painted in the early 1950s. The espagnoles were invariably the artist’s visiting card at the big international exhibitions, where Larionov and Goncharova could show only two or three works. For this reason Espagnole in White is an extremely rare work that would enrich even the most exquisite collection.
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.