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Publication Announcement

Book reveals ‘missing masterpieces’ of world record-breaking artist

27 October 2010 Durham University

A Russian artist, whose work set the world-record for any painting by a female at auction, is the subject of a new book launched this week that has helped to reveal some of her missing masterpieces.

Dr Anthony Parton’s book, Goncharova - the art and design of Natalia Goncharova, to be launched this week at the Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, looks at the colourful and scandalous life of the Russian artist and her now highly prized paintings.

This is the most authoritative account to date of Goncharova’s work and chronicles a remarkable career that embraced various painting styles and movements - Goncharova was the leader of the Russian avant-garde in the early 20th century. The book presents striking art by Goncharova of Russian peasants, Art Deco fashion dresses, stage designs and gigantic painted screens. 

Whilst researching the book, Dr Parton helped to identify and uncover a number of lost pieces by the artist by this remarkable exponent of modernism in the arts. She was arrested in 1910 for the alleged pornographic content of her paintings and in 1914 was nearly excommunicated by the Orthodox Church for painting religious works in the style of Russian folk art.

When the Russian Revolution occurred in 1917, Goncharova was working for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Western Europe. She settled in Paris to continue her career as a painter and stage designer. However, hundreds of her early paintings had been left behind in her Moscow studio and, in the years after the Revolution, some were sold off, some passed into the hands of the authorities for distribution to far-flung galleries across the Soviet Union, whilst others went missing.

Dr Anthony Parton, a member of the School of Education, Durham University said: “I was checking exhibition catalogues of Goncharova’s work as part of my research for the book and, whilst I could find exciting titles for many of her masterpieces, I couldn’t find the paintings to match. I could only trace 80% of her work.

“Various attempts had been made to match up pictures to missing titles but they were not correct matches, Goncharova’s art is normally identifiable by the title of the piece written by the artist on the back of the work and by exhibition labels and other information. Clearly, there was a mystery to be solved.”

As word spread around the art world of Anthony’s book and his pursuit of the whereabouts of the missing artwork, collectors begin to contact him with news of potential finds. The book itself is being launched at the Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, on Thursday 28 October 2010.

Dr Anthony Parton added:

“In the 1930s Stalinist era, Goncharova’s avant-garde works were considered unsuitable for display and some were classified ‘to be destroyed’ by the Soviet state. Fortunately, some of these pieces were saved by museums or hidden away by collectors to prevent their destruction. The raising of the Iron Curtain has helped to open up private collections and to reveal hidden art treasures across Europe.”

Despite her scandalous reputation she was an extraordinary painter and designer and from 1914 onwards was celebrated in Western Europe as Diaghilev’s most successful Ballets Russes stage designer.

Dr Anthony Parton is an art historian and member of the School of Education, Durham University; his research interests lie in the field of Early-20th century Russian art and design and he has published widely on this subject.

How some of the missing masterpieces were found:

Book cover illustration: “Spring in the Country”, painted 1910, located in a private collection.  Anthony identified the painting when he found the title on the back but it had been ‘missing’ – i.e. lost to the experts since 1914.

  • In the same collection Anthony also identified “The Leppers”, a major work in Goncharova’s early Cubist style. This too dates from 1910. The works were in good condition.
  • Anthony also found a found a missing abstract called “Evening (Rayist)” – Rayism was the name of Goncharova’s abstract style. This was located in a private collection in Europe. The owner knew it was a Goncharova but not that it was such an important abstract.
  • A large number of “Espagnoles” were found in a warehouse in Paris; many of the stage designs in the book were found in a locked trunk in a cottage in Wales!
  • A surviving member of the Goncharova family in Moscow contributed an unknown early pastel.
  • Many works in the book had been purchased from Goncharova in the 1930s-1960s and recently resurfaced as collectors have died and families have sold on their collections.

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