Natalia Goncharova – The Cyclist (1913)

Born into an aristocratic family descended from the poet Alexander Pushkin, Russian artist Natalia Goncharova was destined for greatness. Eccentric, audacious and fully aware of her capabilities, at only 32 Goncharova became the first woman and avant-garde artist to have a retrospective show in Moscow.  Ultimately, she would be known for co-founding Rayonism, a style of abstract art that depicted spatial forms which were obtained arising from the intersection of the reflected rays of various objects, and forms chosen by the artist’s will, the overall compositions resembling splintered glass.

While her style was versatile enough to experiment with different art movements (Cubism, Primitvism, Futurism, Rayonism) and draw inspiration from many sources (folklore, religion, technology), The Cyclist remains one of Goncharova’s most iconic works. Painted in a Futuristic manner, the art piece emphasizes movement, speed and the bustle of a busy city street.

Natalia Goncharova - The Cyclist
Natalia Goncharova – The Cyclist (1913), oil on canvas

The cyclist is the main focus, occupying much of the composition. Except for his steady hands, he has his contours replicated, to suggest a sequence of body positions and movement in time and space. The same can be said for the bicycle itself, with its outline repeated looking as if it’s vibrating while it’s being ridden across a cobblestoned street. In the background, street signs, window shops, billboards and Russian words (“hat”, “silk”, “thread” and Goncharova’s signature, “I”) are mashed together, while the man continues his arduous ride. The exaggerated cobblestones suggest a gruesome journey, with a hand in the background pointing the cyclist back to where he came from.

Dressed humbly and wearing a simple cap, the cyclist contrasts with the luxury items that seem to be advertised behind him, particularly the elitist top hat. It’s almost as if Goncharova was suggesting that the advancements in technology and the perks of commerce hadn’t yet reached the working class. She would have been right, for in 1917, four years later, the Bolshevik Revolution would take place.

10 thoughts on “Natalia Goncharova – The Cyclist (1913)

  1. I am enjoying your blog and am so glad to have connected with you. Though I was an art major and had quite a number of Art History classes, I haven’t revisited the subject since. It’s such a pleasure to revisit “old friends” and also, as with this piece, to learn about artists and movements I’d never hard of. Thanks so much!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Leslie. I noticed that I tend to focus on art from the first half of the 20th century. Those were interesting times, for sure, with many art movements shaping up and questions arising about “what is art”. Every now and then I might find an artist on the outskirts of those movements or not belonging to one at all, their art deemed as “too traditional”. So many artists have been overlooked, it is a joy to write about them.

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    1. That’s great, I’m glad she was new to you. Every now and then I stumble upon great Russian artists I didn’t know much about either, as they have been overlooked by the Western art world. Mostly due to geopolitical reasons, I’m guessing.

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  2. I remember the day I first read about Futurism during Art History classes and thought “How on Earth don’t we see more of these works in museums?”. History happened and manifestos eventually kill the groove but how good this is remains clear. Thank you for another great post, Gabriela.

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