Spanish Dancer by Nathalija Gontcharova c.1916
Hanging in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago is the painting by Nathalija Gontcharova called Spanish Dancer. This painting, done in 1916 is an example of Russian Modern Art. It is an oil panting done on canvas and hangs at nearly 6.5 feet by 3 feet. The painting shows a woman adorned in white clothing with what seems to be lace detail. She stands in white high heels on a light brown floor with a brown background showing behind her head and shoulders as well. Her head, in profile, is shown to have some sort of adornment on top and is backed by fabric that is flowing from her arms. Her arms and hands seem to encircle her head in a somewhat distorted manner. It is difficult to determine which arm is her right or left and it can be inferred that she is in some dance pose, due to the title of the piece.
The main focus and emphasis is the dancer woman as she is placed in the very center of the painting and she consumes the entire space. Although the woman is painted so large in scale, the artist allows for some understanding of the space she stands in with breaks in the brown background, giving the feeling of a room. The darker value of the upper left corner gives the illusion of a receding room while the lighter left upper corner seems to be closer to the viewer. Also the line in front of the dancers feet is at a slight angle left giving a sense of perspective that opens up the implied room.
Upon first setting eyes on this painting I instantly focused on the detail of the drapery and then followed in a counter-clockwise motion around the dancers head. This sense of movement is due to diagonal lines the drape of the skirt and the diagonal lines created by the fabric that seem to spiral out of the dancers head. The size of the dress and fabric create such a proportion that the dancer seems so tiny while her movements she is doing are immense.
The thing that initially struck me about this painting is the beautiful way that Gontcharova portrays the draping of the fabric. Thinking about the dances native of Spain and the way they utilize costume and fabric, it makes sense that the artist paid such attention to her rendering of it. It holds an influence that clearly comes from Cubism; the way it almost appears that the viewer is seeing the dancer from different sides at once. The rigidity of her arm poses as well as the draping of the fabric in her skirt and around her head seem to be influenced by a simplified style. The draping on her fabric is reduced down to even folds and drapes that fall from the back of the dancers dress and wrap around the front. The hem of her skirt is simplified into even right angles and a symmetrical weight of drapery. Often times, other artists in history have spent so much time focusing on every fold and crease of drapery, being sure to capture the exact way that light hits it. Gontcharova in this case handled drapery with such a simple but definite way. Although there is a simplification of such a soft and detailed drapery, the artist still has indicated that there is great detail on the fabric and has painted the detail of the lace into parts of the drape. Spanish dancing also is so quickly paced, and involves a lot of whipping of fabric around, the dancer subject is captured a brief snap-shot and holds this pose with poise and grace.
After a slight bit of research I discovered that Gontcharova became a designer of ballet costume in her later years. She began designing sets and costumes in 1915 and this painting is dated 1916. Her ability to capture such movement, grace and emotion in her rendering of fabric in this painting might be explained by the close attention she had been paying to dancers in the recent times.