Danseuse espagnole is a large painting in gouache of almost identical size to the finished version in Goncharova's famous screen of 1920 (fig. 1, private collection) depicting five 'Espagnoles' attired in national Spanish dress and rendered in Goncharova's highly individual cubist style.
Goncharova's series of 'Espagnoles' is stylistically linked to various of her ballet designs for Diaghilev, which established her as one of the most exciting, innovative stage and costume designers of the twentieth century.
In 1914, Goncharova returned to Russia from Paris. She left the following year with her husband, the artist Mikhail Larionov, to join Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, with whom they visited Spain in 1916. Goncharova was captivated by the Spanish women in their rich, traditional costumes set off by their delicate 'black-laced' mantillas.
Goncharova worked on two Spanish ballets which never reached performance: Triana, to music by Isaac Albeniz, and Espagna set to Ravel's Rhapsodie Espagnole.
Goncharova used Cubism in an entirely personal way to portray both the austere richness of the proud, regal Spanish women and the nobility of the Russian women that she so vividly remembered in Russian icons and in richly decorated Russian folk art. The grace, monumental grandeur and dignified bearing of the Danseuses espagnoles portray them as uniquely personal female symbols of both cultures.
Raymond Cogniat, the renowned art historian and friend of Goncharova, highlighted this dual Spanish-Russian association:
'Simultaneously sombre and sumptuous, exuberant and discrete, their play of severe linearity dissecting the image into a sequence of variegated planes of sober grey, white, brown and yellow, established through austerity, a rare rich decorativeness that truly reflected Spain as seen through a dazzling Russian vision' (R. Cogniat, quoted in exh. cat., Nathalie Gontcharova, Michel Larionov, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1995, p.112).
A measure of this painting's importance to Goncharova is that she kept it in her collection until her death. It was sold only after Larionov's death and bears his studio stamp at the lower right.