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On display between 28th September 2019 - 12th January 2020 at Palazzo Strozzi, ground-breaking new exhibition, Natalia Goncharova: A woman of the avant-garde with Gaugin, Matisse and Picasso showcases the work of a leading 20th century female artist. We spoke with Florentine art historian and curator at the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation since 2007, Ludovica Sebregondi, for insight into the artist, the exhibition and the cultural context.

How did the initial idea for this exhibition come about? 

“In 2011, the Managing Director of Palazzo Strozzi, Antonella Loiero, and I found out about the work of this artist – a really strong woman, very well-known abroad especially amongst those who work in theatre, but not known in Italy. We literally fell in love and spent 8 full years turning this exhibition into reality.”

It has been a while since the last major exhibition of Goncharova’s work…

“The last large exhibition about her took place at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow in 2013 and included 800 pieces. Her works are extremely strong, revolutionary and deeply involving, but I think that being a woman didn’t help her – as was often the case in art history.”

Was anything previously unknown or unexpected revealed when the exhibition was curated?

“We have an entire section about Natalia in Italy, where she remained from September 1916 to May 1917, especially in Rome, where she met many artists and intellectuals. These are mostly sacred works, and some of them are entirely new, never seen before.

We also have a section about Russian Futurism, as opposed to Italian Futurism.

Another oddity: we found out Sophia Loren bought one of her works in the Sixties, at a time when she was not well-known yet.”

Natalia’s varied inspiration and output was referred to by her biographer as ‘everythingism’. Can you tell us more about the different mediums of work presented in this exhibition?

“I personally dislike that word and I would rather say she was a very eclectic artist! She worked in films, in theatre, she painted, sketched, acted and even wrote a radio drama. We have engravings and lithographs, a wonderful folding screen, sketches, croquis and videos of shows she worked on, plus various drawings. She was also a true fashion icon – everybody followed her style and her clothes are incredibly modern.”

Goncharova was also a pioneering feminist and free thinker. Can you tell us about some of her more controversial phases?

“Natalia strongly believed in independence and always felt free, despite the crucial relationship with her life-long partner Michail Larionov [a relevant Russian painter and costume designer] with whom she lived from 1900 ‘til 1955, without being married. When they married, they chose to do so only because they were worried about their communal artistic legacy, in case one of the two passed away. They were always a free couple, with other important relationships going on.”

How did the reception to her work differ after she moved to Paris, arguably less orthodox than Moscow at the time?

“From 1915 to 1918 Natalia Goncharova and Michail Larionov traveled in Europe, until they settled in Paris – where they stayed until her death, in 1962. Here her work as a costume designer was very much appreciated; her success was instantaneous. What they liked the most there was her brave use of colours. In Moscow, on the other hand, one of her paintings, a nude, was censored in 1910. Incredibly, the same painting was also censored by Instagram only recently!”

The exhibition also features pieces from other prominent artists, including Matisse and Picasso. Why were these artists selected?

“That’s right, the exhibition begins with Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso and Derain. There’s a dedicated room for those, because their paintings were exhibited in Moscow – mostly in the Shchukin Collection and at the Tretyakov Museum – and had a great influence on her. Later on, in Paris and in Rome, Natalia even met some of them in person, for instance Matisse and Picasso.”

Which are your personal favourite pieces, and why?

“First of all, this is a very ‘happy’ exhibition, full of colours, in line with her style. I personally love the portrait of her by Larionov, which is peculiar and also very beautiful – it is a collage made with her real braid, which she cut for that occasion. There are also some pieces representing Spanish women, which are especially fascinating.”

As part of their experience with Hotel Savoy, guests may take a private, after-hours tour of the exhibition. Can you tell us more about this?

“It’s a partnership that offers visitors a truly exclusive experience with a higher degree of involvement – the entire museum is made available to them. “

To book your stay at Hotel Savoy and see Natalia Goncharova: A woman of the avant-garde with Gaugin, Matisse and Picasso, please email or call +39 06 32 888 930.

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