On occasion Peasants dancing has been identified with a painting entitled Khorovod (Round dance) which appears as catalogue number 59 in the 1912 'Donkey's Tail' exhibition and also as catalogue number 498 in the huge retrospective of her work which Goncharova organised at the Mikhailova Art Salon in Moscow in 1913.1 It has also been suggested, however, that by virtue of its subject and style, Peasants dancing belongs to the group of nine paintings which Goncharova exhibited together under the single title 'Vintage' or 'Grape Harvest' as catalogue number 564 in her 1913 retrospectives.2 Indeed, the number 564 is inscribed in paint on the back of the canvas, seeming to confirm this identification.
In the absence of a date on the painting-Goncharova rarely signed or dated her paintings at the time of their execution and dates added to many works in later years are often inaccurate-the date for Peasants dancing, as for other paintings from the 'Grape Harvest' group, has hovered between 1910 and 1911. Certainly the 'Grape harvest' series was finished by 1911, as two paintings from the group, Wine drinkersand Bull are listed among the works which Goncharova contributed to the 'Union of Youth' exhibition which opened in St Petersburg on 17 December 1911.3 Although neither of the paintings was individually dated in the catalogue for this exhibition, in the Moscow 'Target' exhibition of 1913, Wine drinkers appears again, this time with the date of 1910.4 In Goncharova's Moscow retrospective in August 1913 the 'Grape Harvest' group is dated 1911, as it is in the book on Goncharova and Larionov written by E. Eganbyuri (pseud. llia Zdanevitch) and published in the same year, although in the book Wine drinkers is reproduced with a caption date of 1910-11.5 A reasonable deduction from this shuffling between 1910 and 1911 is that Goncharova began work on the 'Grape Harvest' paintings late in 1910, and finished them early in 1911.
The nine paintings comprising the 'Grape Harvest' series were a centrepiece of Goncharova's 1913 retrospective. Painted on canvases measuring almost 1 x 1.5 metres, the compositions were paired vertically, as in Women carrying baskets of grapes (private collection, Paris) and Men carrying baskets of grapes (State Museum, St Petersburg), or horizontally, as in the Wine drinkers (private collection, Paris) and Peasants dancing, and together must have stretched almost 12 metres along the wall. The paintings identified with this group all have a similar file; movements are angular and the extraordinarily rich colours are laid on rather flat with thick outlines in ochre. They are a prime example of Goncharova's so-called 'Neo-primitive' style, a mixture of Fauve-inspired boldness of colour combined with a self-conscious nationalism that drew on folk and popular art forms, especially the cheap and popular printed images called lubki. 'At the beginning of my development l learned most of all from my French contemporaries', Goncharova wrote in the catalogue introduction to her 1913 retrospective; 'They stimulated my awareness and I realised the great significance and value of the art of my own country'.6
It might be ventured that Peasants dancing represents a particularly striking example of Goncharova's transposition of the influence of her French contemporaries. When painting this work she was undoubtedly aware of Henri Matisse's (1869-1954) Dance 1910 which arrived in Moscow in December 1910 and, with its companion panel, Music 1910, was installed in the house of Sergei Shchukin who had commissioned the paintings from Matisse. The simple division of blue sky and green ground in Dance and Music is carried over to Peasants dancing, as is the application of paint in flat areas of brilliant colour. But whereas Matisse's dance is performed by athletic brown nudes from some Mediterranean arcadia, Goncharova chooses galumphing peasants, arranged in the flat frieze of folk embroidery, their contours edged by broad ochre lines that imitate in paint the gouged woodblock line of lubki.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.100.
- See, for instance, the exhibition history given for Peasants dancing in the exhibition catalogue 'Larionov-Gontcharova', Musée des Beaux Arts D'lxelles, Brussels, 1976, cat. no. 94.
- Mary Chamot, Gontcharova, Paris: La Bibliothéque des Arts, 1972, p.46.
- Catalogue nos 15 and 18 respectively.
- Catalogue no. 31.
- E. Eganbyuri (pseud I.M. Zdanevitch), Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larlonov, Moscow: Myunster, 1913.
- Quoted from John Bowlt's translation of the catalogue introduction in John E. Bowlt (ad.), Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Theory and Criticism 1902-1934, New York: Viking Press, 1976, p.55.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010