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.
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.