Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973); Scene design for Pulcinella, about 1920; Watercolor and gouache on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment, TL2001.106; © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Picasso to Hockney: Modern Art on Stage presents a rare opportunity to experience nearly 100 years of original performance designs by renowned visual artists who took their creativity to the stage. This exhibition pulls back the curtain on lesser known but equally inspiring aspects of their creative expressions—their collaborations as designers of sets, costumes, lighting, scenery, and in some instances, complete performances. Drawn from the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, this exhibition showcases exquisite designs for performances by modern and contemporary artists including Pablo Picasso, Natalia Gontcharova, Henri Matisse, Alexandra Exter, Joan Miró, Louise Nevelson, and David Hockney, among others.
Known mainly as painters and sculptors, the artists represented in this exhibition dispel notions of isolated studio practice. Their artworks celebrate collaborations with the exciting directors, dancers, writers, composers, choreographers, and musicians of their day, including Serge Diaghilev and Ballets Russes, Igor Stravinsky, the Moscow Actors’ Theatre, Georges Balanchine, Gertrude Stein, Santa Fe Opera, and Houston Grand Opera. Together they stand as visionaries of theater arts—creating milestones of modern performance, influencing generations of theater designers, and even changing the course of their own art.
Picasso to Hockney: Modern Art on Stage is organized for the McNay Art Museum by R. Scott Blackshire, PhD, curator, Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts; Timothy James Retzloff, Tobin Theatre Arts Fund Assistant Curator, Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts; and Jody Blake, PhD, Former Curator, Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts.
Circle of Henri Rivière (1864–1951) (French, 19th century); Shadow puppet of an artist holding a palette, around 1886–1897; Zinc with fabric; McNay Art Museum; Museum purchase with the Victor and Peggy Barton Creighton Charitable Trust, TL2006.2
This puppet was created for the Theatre d’ombres (Shadow Theatre) at Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) cabaret in the Montmartre district of Paris. Rivière and other artists projected the shadows of zinc cutouts onto a backlit screen, which were accompanied by music, sound effects and commentary.
Edward Burne-Jones (British, 1833–1898); Costume designs for Arthur in King Arthur, 1895; Watercolor, ink, graphite, and metallic paint on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment, TL2001.37.2 and TL2001.37.5
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of loosely associated British artists who looked at art made prior to the Italian Renaissance for inspiration. Their work emphasized precise detail, color and moralizing story telling. Burne-Jones’ costume designs for a play about King Arthur, the legendary leader from the 5th and 6th centuries, fit well with the Pre-Raphaelite interests.
The play, produced in 1895 at the Lyceum Theatre, London, was written by J. Comyns Carr based on Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th- century story Le Morte d’Arthur (The Death of Arthur), with music by Arthur Sullivan.
Alphonse Mucha (Czech, 1860–1939); Costume design for Creon, King of Corinth, and costume design for the Courtier in Médéé (Medea), 1898; Watercolor, charcoal and graphite on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment, TL2001.98.1 and TL2001.98.2; © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
A leader in the Art Nouveau movement, Mucha rose to prominence in the art world in the early 20th century for his distinctive poster designs. He also designed the costumes for the play Medea, which was written by Catulle Mendès and based on the 5th-century BCE Greek tragedy of revenge by Euripides. The play was staged in 1898 at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, Paris, and was performed with Sarah Bernhardt.
Léon Bakst (Russian, 1866–1924); Variation of the original scene design for Schéhérazade, after 1910; Watercolor, metallic paint, and graphite on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of Robert L. B.Tobin, TL1998.81
Schéhérazade is a ballet with music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsokov and original choreography by Michel Fokine. It was premiered by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Théâtre National de l’Ópera, Paris, 1910. Principal dancers included Ida Rubinstein and Vaslav Nijinsky. Nijinsky is featured in one of Bakst’s works to the right.The set design is ornate, evoking a contemporary Parisian audience’s expectations for a story about a Persian king and queen.
Léon Bakst (Russian, 1866–1924); Vaslav Nijinsky as Chinese Dancer in Les Orientales, 1917; Watercolor and graphite on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of the Tobin Foundation for Theatre Arts, TL1998.34
Nijinsky was one of the most influential and celebrated stars of ballet in the early 20th century. He starred in Les Orientales, a ballet produced by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Théâtre National de l’Ópera, Paris, in 1910. The divertissement (entertainment) featured music by Anton Arensky, Alexander Borodin, Alexander Glazunov, Christian Sinding, and Edvard Grieg, with orchestration by Igor Stravinsky. Choreography was by Michel Fokine after Marius Petipa.
Alexander Golovine (Russian, 1863–1930); Cloak for Ivan Tsarevitch in the finale of L’Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), 1910; Metallic cloth with brocade medallions and metallic embroidery, applied decoration and ermine, lined with corduroy; McNay Art Museum; Collection of The Tobin Endowment
This costume was designed for the ballet and opera by Igor Stravinsky and produced by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Théâtre National de l’Ópera, Paris, 1910.The work was Stravinsky’s professional breakthrough and was the first of many important collaborations with Diaghilev. In this exhibition is a related costume by Henri Matisse and poster design by David Hockney for subsequent performances.
The story revolves around Prince Ivan and the evil wizard Koschei the Immortal, whose soul is kept alive inside the egg of a magic bird.
Alexandre Benois (Russian, 1870-1960); Scene design for the King’s bedroom, Act III, in Le Rossignol (The Nightingale), 1914; Gouache and pastel on paper, mounted on canvas; McNay Art Museum; Gift of Robert L. B.Tobin, TL1998.111; © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Le Rossignol (The Nightingale) is an opera with music by Igor Stravinsky and libretto by Stravinsky and Stepan Mitusov. This scene design was for the Ballets Russes at the Théâtre National de l’Ópera, Paris, 1914. In this exhibition are also works relating to later productions of Le Rossignol with designs by Henri Mattise as well as David Hockney.
Mikhail Larionov (RUSSIAN, 1881-1964); Costume design for Wife of the Old Buffoon in Chout (The Buffoon); c. 1921; and Costume design for Bronislava Nijinska as the Fox disguised as a nun in Le Renard (The Fox), 1922; Watercolor and charcoal on board; McNay Art Museum; Gift of Robert L. B.Tobin,TL1998.263 and .266; © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Larinov met his future wife, Natalia Gontcharova, while studying at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. They shared an interest in the avant-garde and creating innovative, even radical, forms of art. They met Serge Diaghilev of the Ballets Russes in 1915, and soon left Moscow for Paris, where they remained.
Chout is a ballet with music by Serge Prokofiev and libretto by Sergei Diaghilev, produced by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at Théâtre de la Gaîté, Paris, 1921.
Le Renard is a comic performance for song and dance, with four vocal soloists and chamber orchestra. The Fox is a character found in folk tales in many countries, known to be a cunning and sly trickster. This costume design was for the ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Bronislava Nijinska, produced by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Théâtre National de l’Opera, Paris, 1922.
Liubov Popova (Russian, 1889-1924); Preliminary design for The Magnanimous Cuckold, c. 1920-22; Gouache, ink, and graphite on paper McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment, TL2001.108
This modernist design was created for The Magnanimous Cuckold, a farce by Fernand Crommelynck, directed by Vsevolod Meyerhold at the Actors’ Theatre, Moscow, 1922. The story tells of a man’s manic paranoia and belief in his wife’s faithfulness.
Alexandra Exter (French, B. Russia (Now Poland), 1882–1949); Costume design for a female servant to Aelita in Aelita: Queen of Mars, 1924; Gouache, ink, and graphite on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment, TL2001.61
This design (and the related design on view nearby) was for the silent, science-fiction film Aelita: Queen of Mars, directed by Yakov Protazanov and written by Fedor Otsep and Alexei Faiko after the novel by Alexei Tolstoi. The modern costumes for people on Mars added to the futuristic look of the movie.
Alexandra Exter (French, B. Russia (Now Poland), 1882–1949); Costume design for Salomé in Salomé, 1917; Gouache and graphite on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment, TL2001.60
Exter was a preeminent figure of the early Russian avant-garde. She spent most of her childhood in Kiev (present-day Ukraine), before moving to Paris in 1908 to attend the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. There, she met fellow visual artists Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger (featured in this exhibition), who both influenced her later art.
Written by Oscar Wilde and adapted by Konstantin Balmont, Salomé was directed by Alexander Tairov for the Kamerny Theatre, Moscow, 1917. Based on the Biblical story, Salomé danced for King Herod.When asked what she wanted in return, she asked for the head of the imprisoned John the Baptist.
Wilde’s play was the first instance of Salomé’s dance being called the “Dance of the Seven Veils.”
Alexandra Exter (French, B. Russia (Now Poland), 1882–1949); Lighting design for an unknown production of a tragedy, 1928; Gouache, ink and graphite on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment TL2001.69
After study in Paris, Exter returned home to Kiev (present-day Ukraine), opened her own studio and taught art classes. Pavel Tchelitchev, represented in this exhibition, was one of her most notable pupils. Exter’s interest in abstract geometric shapes and designs aligned her with the avant-garde Russian Constructivist movement. These characteristics are used to great effect in her lighting design for a tragedy, which is reminiscent of Exter’s designs for the 1921 production of Romeo and Juliet at the Chamber Theater, Moscow, 1921.
Henri Matisse, (French, 1869–1954); Robe for the Emperor in Le Chant du Rossignol (The Song of the Nightingale), 1920; Silk with metallic embroidery and metal studs; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment, TL2001.92; © 2021 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
In 1919, composer Igor Stravinsky and head of the Ballets Russes, Serge Diaghilev, visited Matisse at his summer quarters in Issy-les-Moulineaux, a suburb of Paris. They commissioned Matisse to create costumes and sets for Le Chant du Rossignol, a ballet choreographed by Léonide Massine to accompany the music by Stravinsky. The production was presented in 1920 at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra de Paris.
Eugene Berman (American, B. Russia, 1899–1972); Costume designs for Giselle, 1946; Watercolor and ink on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment TL2001.25.6 and .7; © Estate of Eugene Berman
These works are two of fifty costume designs Berman created for the ballet by Adolphe Adam, which was presented in 1946 by the American Ballet Theatre at the Broadway Theatre, New York. The performance featured choreography by Dimitri Romanoff (after Jean Coralli), with contributions by George Balanchine and Antony Tudor. Produced in 1946 by American Ballet Theatre at the Broadway Theatre, New York, Berman’s extravagant work apparently outshone the performance. The New York Times critic John Martin described Giselle as “the background for Mr. Berman’s art,” adding that the modern costumes were not a good match for the music and choreography, which he described as “quaint and old fashioned style of a hundred years ago.”
The tattered appearances are fitting for a ballet featuring ghosts. Giselle, a beautiful young peasant girl falls for the flirtations of a deceitful nobleman, Albrecht. He breaks her heart, and the fragile Giselle dies of heartbreak. Albrecht must face the otherworldly consequences of his careless seduction. At night, the spirits of maidens who died from heartbreak seek revenge by seducing and dancing with men until the men die from exhaustion. When they come for Albrecht, Giselle’s love saves him, which in turn saves herself from becoming a vengeful spirit.
Eugene Berman (American, B. Russia, 1899–1972); Scene design for Armida, 1946; Gouache, watercolor, and ink on board; McNay Art Museum; Gift of Jane and Arthur Stieren TL1996.12; © Estate of Eugene Berman
This set design was for an unrealized production of a ballet based on a 16th-century poem by Torquato Tasso.
Pavel Tchelitchev (Russian, 1898–1957); Costume designs for Concierto de Mozart (Mozart Violin Concerto); Top to bottom: Assistants to the Queen and Female Corps de Ballet, First Movement; The Prince and The Prince’s Friend, Second Movement, about 1942; Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink on paper, with fabric swatches; McNay Art Museum; Gift of Robert L. B.Tobin TL1998.343 and .345; © Estate of Pavel Tchelitchev
Tchelitchev was born into an aristocratic family who fled Tsarist Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He later studied under artist Alexandra Exter (included in this exhibition) at the Kiev Academy. In Paris in 1923, he befriended writers Gertrude Stein and Edith Sitwell, and is credited as a co-founder of Neo-Romanticism, alongside fellow artists Eugene Berman and Christian Bérard, who are both represented nearby in this exhibition.
The two works here are designs created for the ballet with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart produced by the Ballet del Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, 1942, and choreography by George Balanchine.
Léonor Fini (Argentinian, 1907–1996); Costume designs for Musician and Cats in Les Demoiselles de la Nuit (Ladies of the Evening), about 1948; Ink and gouache on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment TL2002.74; © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Fini, an artist associated with the Surrealist movement and a lover of cats, created the costumes for the retelling of Aesop’s fable in which a cat falls in love with a man and asks Venus to turn her into a woman.The ballet, with choreography by experimental dancer Roland Petit, music by Jean Françaix and story by Jean Anouilh was produced by Les Ballets de Paris at Théâtre Marigny, Paris, 1948.
Christian Bérard (French, 1902–1949); Scene design for Renaud et Armide, about 1943; Gouache and ink on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Theatre Arts Fund 2013.100; © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
A three-act tragedy, Renaud et Armide was written by Jean Cocteau (whose work also appears in this exhibition). It was produced in 1943 at the Comédie-Française, Paris. The tale is a tragic love story of magic and misunderstanding, in which Renaud is in love with a dream while Armide loves a real man, Renaud. The two can never truly be together and, giving up her magic, Armide dies in Renaud’s embrace. Called “cerebral” in the press, it ran only 42 times before closing.
Christian Bérard (French, 1902–1949); Scene design for Seventh Symphony, about 1938; Watercolor and gouache on board McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment TL2002.38; © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Bérard’s surreal set design was for a neo-classical ballet to accompany music by Ludwig von Beethoven. Choreographed by Léonide Massine, the performance was produced by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, London, 1938.
Jean Cocteau (French, 1889–1963); Drawings for Oedipus Rex, 1952; Left to Right: The Blinding of Oedipus, The Suicide of Jocasta, and Woman; Ink on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment TL2001.39.3, .5, .6; © Adagp / Comité Cocteau, Paris, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 2021
Cocteau was a painter, writer, filmmaker and author whose work aligned him with Surrealist artists. He first was involved in stage work through collaboration with artist Léon Bakst (whose works are also on view in the exhibition). Additionally, he worked with Erik Satie in writing the 1917 ballet Parade, for which Pablo Picasso designed the sets and costumes (set design on view in the exhibition). With the story by Cocteau based on an ancient Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex was an opera-oratorio by Igor Stravinsky and originally produced by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris, 1927. It was restaged by Théâtre des Champs- Élysées, Paris, 1952.
Giorgio de Chirico (Italian, B. Greece, 1888–1978); Costume designs for Pulcinella, about 1931; Watercolor and graphite on paper McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment TL2001.47.3-5; © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome
An influential and enigmatic painter, de Chirico inspired numerous artists associated with various movements, including Dada, Romanticism and Surrealism. These designs are believed to have been created for the ballet Pulcinella by Igor Stravinsky, which was produced by Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo at the Théâtre National de l’Opera, Paris, 1931.
Pulcinella was drawn from a character in popular Neapolitan stage comedy. The 35-minute ballet is about friends and the absurd lengths they go to find love.
László Moholy-Nagy (American, B. Hungary, 1895–1946); Top: Scene design for Tales of Hoffman, 1929 ; Bottom: Costume designs for A Man and A Woman in Tales of Hoffman, 1929 ; Gouache and graphite on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment TL2001.97.1, .2, and .3; © 2021 Estate of László MoholyNagy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The 19th-century opera by Jacques Offenbach was refashioned by Maholy-Nagy into a contemporary setting for the 1929 production by the Krolloper, Berlin.
The story is about how the muse Poetry plots to foil the poet Hoffman’s other romantic interests so he will only love her. Told in three acts, the opera includes drama, death and a mechanical woman who Hoffman mistakes for a real person. It ends with a drunken Hoffman proclaiming his devotion to Poetry. “Muse, whom I love, I am yours!”
The streamlined designs and geometric, modern sets fit with Moholy-Nagy’s artistic sensibilities. A former instructor at the Bauhaus in Germany, Moholy-Nagy stressed the importance of functional design and photography in his work. He moved to the United States to teach in 1937.
George Grosz (American, B. Germany, 1893–1959); Costume designs for The Bicyclist, The Rifleman, and Herr Rat in Kanzlist Krehler (Office Clerk Krehler), 1922; Watercolor and ink on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment TL2001.77; © 2021 Estate of George Grosz / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
After fighting in World War I, Grosz turned his art to left-wing causes and satirical compositions with strong social messages critical of politicians and cosmopolitan life. He emigrated to America in 1933, while his art was defamed in his native Germany.
These are designs for a play by Georg Kaiser, a dramatist critical of the modern machine age.
Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893–1983); Costume design for A Spinning Top in Jeux d’enfants (Children’s Games), about 1932; Watercolor on paper McNay Art Museum; Bequest of Mary Lynch Kurtz TL2000.16; © Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 2021
For the ballet Children’s Games by Georges Bizet with choreography by Léonide Massine, Miró designed colorful costumes in which dancers looked and moved like children’s toys. It was produced in 1932 by De Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo at the Théâtre du Monte-Carlo, 1932.
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973); Maquette for Le Tricorne (The Three-Cornered Hat), 1919; Watercolor, ink, and graphite on board; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment, TL2001.105; © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Born in Málaga, Spain, Picasso showed early talent in art, which he continued to develop throughout his nearly 80-year career. His work underwent numerous changes and scholars acknowledge a few of his defining artistic periods: “Realist” (pre-1900), “Blue” (1901–04), “Rose” (1904–06), “African” (1907–09), “Cubist” (1909–19), and “Neoclassicist/ Surrealist” (1918–1945).
This design is for a ballet with music by Manuel de Falla and choreography by Léonide Massine, which was produced by Ballets Russes at the Alhambra Theatre, London, 1919.
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973); Scene design for Pulcinella, about 1920; Watercolor and gouache on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment, TL2001.106; © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Like many prominent artists of the day, Picasso collaborated with the world-renowned Ballets Russes, creating designs for Parade (1917), Le Tricorne (The Three- Cornered Hat, 1919) and Pulcinella (1920). Pulcinella, a ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky, was choreographed by Léonide Massine and produced by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at Théâtre National de l’Opéra, Paris, 1920.
Paul Cadmus (American, 1904–1999); Costume design for A Motorist in Filling Station, about 1937; Gouache and graphite on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment TL2001.38; © 2021 Estate of Paul Cadmus / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Virgil Thomson’s Filling Station was the first all-American ballet, with music, designs and choreography by Americans, and featuring Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan, an American dance company.
Set in a gas station, the costume designs by Cadmus recalled pop-culture comic strip characters, and the fast-paced comedy echoed 1930s Hollywood movies. Kirstein claimed, “The set was the kind of a place that Jimmy Cagney would be at home in.” Choreographed by Lew Christensen, Filling Station was first presented at the Ballet Caravan at the Avery Memorial Theatre, Hartford, Connecticut, 1938.
Fernand Léger (French, 1881–1955); Costume designs for Bird and Animals in La Création du Monde (The Creation of the World), about 1923; Gouache and ink on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment TL2001.88.1 & .2; © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Léger is recognized largely for his colorful Cubist paintings with Surrealist sensibilities. He made stage and costume designs for The Creation of the World, based on an African origin story, with music by Darius Milhaud and choreography by Jean Börlin.The play was produced by the Ballets Suédois, Paris, 1923.
Sonia Delaunay (French, B. Russian, Now Ukraine, 1885–1979); Costume designs for Bride and Groom in Le Coeur à Gaz (The Gas Heart), 1923, published 1977; Lithographs; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment TL2001.49.2 & .4; © Pracusa
The Gas Heart was a Dada-inspired performance featuring a disjointed plot of non sequiturs, music and ballet. It was a
parody of traditional dramas written by Romanian-born avant-garde poet and performer Tristan Tzara with music by Eric Satie and Darius Milhaud. The play premiered at Soirée Dada at the Galerie Montaigne, 1921, and was reprised in Soirée du Coeur à Barbe at the Théâtre Michel, Paris, 1923.
Dada was an art movement that rejected traditional subject matter and was intentionally irrational, spontaneous and random. It was a reaction against the horrors of World War I, seen as the insane consequence of bourgeois rationality. Dada artists wondered: if life and government didn’t make sense, why should art?
Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954); Costume design for Bleu (Blue) in Rouge et noir (Red and Black), 1939; Watercolor, ink, and graphite on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of The Tobin Endowment, TL2001.93; © 2021 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Matisse initially studied in Paris to become a lawyer. However, while recovering from appendicitis, his mother gave him art supplies to pass the time, sparking a newfound curiosity for the visual arts. Matisse went on to create artworks in various mediums, ranging from drawing and painting to sculpture and collage. After first working in theatre design in 1919, he returned to designing costumes for Serge Denham’s 1939 Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo’s staging of Rouge et Noir, set to Dmitri Shostakovitch’s First Symphony. In this design for the character Blue, you can see both the front and the back of the composition through the paper.
Natalia Gontcharova (Russian, 1881–1962); Winter; Spring; Summer; Autumn, c. 1922; in Snegourotchka (The Snow Maiden); Oil on canvas; McNay Art Museum; Gift of Robert L. B.Tobin,TL1998.201-5; © N.Goncharova / UPRAVIS 2021, ARS, NY
At the age of 17, Gontcharova enrolled at the Moscow School of Painting to study painting, sculpting and architecture. After meeting her future partner, fellow Russian artist Mikhail Larionov—also represented in this exhibition—she decided to focus solely on painting. Gontcharova’s work shows her consistent attraction to Russian folklore and Orthodox Christian icons.
The story of Snegurotchka (The Snow Maiden) deals with oppositional forces of nature and includes Russian mythological characters and real people, as well as some who are in-between mythical and real. The composer, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, distinguished groups of characters musically, and several individual characters have their own associated repeating musical arrangements. In addition, the townspeople accompanied folk melodies.
Natalia Gontcharova (Russian, 1881–1962); General Polkan; Queen of Shemakha; The Astrologer in Le Coq d’Or (The Golden Cockerel), a. 1922; Oil on canvas McNay Art Museum; Gift of Robert L. B.Tobin,TL1998.169, 170, 166; © N.Goncharova / UPRAVIS 2021, ARS, NY
Set in ancient Azerbaijan, Le Coq d’Or is a fairy-tale opera intended as political satire against expansionist desires of recent Russian Tsars. It tells the tale of an astrologer who caught a magical golden cockerel, or rooster, which he presents to the King Dodon to watch over his city. The king promises any gift in return. The cockerel warns the king of danger, so he sends his two sons to war with the neighboring kingdom Shemakhan. Warned a second time, the king himself goes to war and finds his sons dead on the battlefield. His grief is lifted when he encounters Tsaritsa, Queen of Shemakhan, and he falls in love. When he returns to his kingdom with Tsaritsa, the astrologer asks for the king’s new bride as his promised gift. Enraged, the king kills the astrologer, which causes the cockerel to attack and kill the king. The cockerel and queen then magically disappear.
Natalia Gontcharova (Russian, 1881–1962); Costume design for a Spanish dancer with oranges, about 1916; Graphite, gouache, watercolor, and ink on paper; McNay Art Museum; Gift of Robert L. B.Tobin,TL1998.230; © N.Goncharova / UPRAVIS 2021, ARS, NY
In 1916, Gontcharova traveled to Spain, where she was deeply moved by the Spanish people and their customs. This had a significant impact on her subsequent work. Gontcharova created numerous paintings depicting Spanish women mid-dance, outfitted in traditional flamenco dresses, mantillas, and fans.
Natalia Gontcharova (Russian, 1881–1962); Scene design for Act I in Le Coq d’Or (The Golden Cockerel), 1913; and Front curtain design for Act III, scene 3, in Le Coq d’Or (The Golden Cockerel), c. 1914; Watercolor, gouache, and graphite on paper; Watercolor, gouache, and graphite on board; McNay Art Museum; Gift of Robert L. B.Tobin, TL1998.173 and .177; © N.Goncharova / UPRAVIS 2021, ARS, NY
Several of the works here by Gontcharova were for various productions of the opera-ballet Le Coq d’Or. These include three large paintings for the 1922 staging and a costume from 1938, all located in this section of the exhibition. Featuring music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and choreography by Michel Fokine, the 1914 production was produced by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra, Paris.
Natalia Gontcharova (Russian, 1881–1962); Costume for King Dodon in Le Coq d’Or (The Golden Cockerel), 1938; Velvet, silk, metallic embroidery, lace, and fur; McNay Art Museum; Gift of Robert L. B.Tobin, TL1998.180; © N.Goncharova / UPRAVIS 2021, ARS, NY
This cloak was made for the 1938 revival of Le Coq d’Or by the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. The opera-ballet was first performed in Paris, in 1914. For the revival, Barbara Karinska, a legendary costumer known as “Madame Karinska” made costumes based on Gontcharova’s 1914 designs.