Abstract composition with palette was painted in the distinctive style created by the French Cubists at the beginning of the 1910s. It is simultaneously both an abstract composition and a still life in which we can see the outline of a concrete subject: a palette and bowl on a table. This duality gives the work an element of mystery. The subject is apparently concealed by a multitude of conditions, nothing is of its expected form; the shades of meaning and the spatial relationship with the real world have been broken down. The artist has instead built a new relationship, a different order, the basis of which, the equilibrium of the composition, remains unchanged.
Natalia Goncharova first experimented with Cubist influences around 1909, having seen S. I. Shchukin's collection of Picasso's late works. She was later to call herself the first Russian Cubist. However, from 1909-1912 her Cubism was influenced by traditional folk art which reinforced the archaic, primitivist forms of her style. The artist's interest in this phenomenon was awakened by a trip to the West thanks to her acquaintance with Picasso and Gris. Goncharova strove to immerse herself in the European artistic context. Her experiments with style in the 1920s went in completely different, and sometimes opposite, directions, giving her works an unpredictable quality. She combined the traditions of Cubism with other sources, working in a single plane, as in a sculptural style, using sharp, graphic contours, while allowing the painting to define the space, as in the composition of the Thème Jardin (1920s) from Pompidou Centre (fig. 1).
In the present work, Goncharova has constructed a precise network of foundation lines which intersect each other in vertical planes. On top of these are sweeping ornaments, reminiscent of the colourful designs of the shawls in the artist's Espagnoles series. The bowl in the first plane with its dwindling edges is already outlined by the totally free style of painting. This blurred technique and the lightness of the fragments link the present work with the still life Large leaves (fig. 2, State Tretyakov Gallery) shown in 1929 at the artist's exhibition in V. Girshman's gallery in Paris. Here, the maxim of Cubism had already been completely re-examined, the rational character of the compositions exploded into a spontaneous artistic surge of analogous and individual elements as in the internal frame bordering the representation on which the signature is found. The two works also share a similar palette. Marina Tsvetaeva considered this palette, with its accents of black, grey, red-brown, and the active areas of white (which usually come from the base layer) to be typical of Goncharova and her Spanish influences.
In the 1920s Goncharova's passion for decoration did not diminish. I. Zdanevich even claims that Goncharova brought this quality to European Cubism. The confident artistry of Abstract composition with palette makes this an original, inimitable work, characteristic of Goncharova.
We are grateful to Irina Vakar, the Curator of the Department of early 20th Century Paintings in the State Tretyakov Gallery, for preparing this note.