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.


6 Responses to “Spanish Dancer by Nathalija Gontcharova c.1916”

  1. aimeereatherford Says:

    I really enjoy this painting and the fine detail through out the fabric. That’s the first thing I noticed about the artwork. I also like how the artist chose to place this woman in the center of canvas giving it a tight composition. I thought it was interesting that this artist ended up becoming a designer for ballet costumes.

  2. donnaskon Says:

    This painting reminds me of some of Picasso’s work because it seems to be devided in sections of geometric shapes. Also because of the distortion of the figure. Perhaps the artist was inspired by him. I agree that the lines around the dancer force your eyes to travel around the dancer sensing movement. I also think that the detail of the drapery/lace is beautiful.

  3. Beautiful painting! I love the research done on the artist. It really helps give and understanding of the subject of the painting. I agree about the cubism influence. There are alot of geometeric shapes present in the work. I also love the intricate detail in the drapery of the clothing.

  4. First off, I just wanna say that I think this was a great piece to analyze because it’s such a capitvating piece that really catches the viewers attention..(It surely caught my attention right away!). I really enjoyed reading your paper and appreciate the great detail you give. Viewers like myself are really able to study the painting even more than just what meets the eye at first. I didn’t notice all of the great detail in the fabric until you pointed it out and that made me interested to really take a GOOD look at the overall piece. As I stated before, the painting is beautiful and I agree with you when you say that Gontcharova was probably influenced by her knowledge of dancers when she rendered this painting. Great Job again! =)

  5. I love this painting. I am drawn to this painting because of how simple it seems at first, but after a closer look you discover more texture and detail. I like the odd pose of the body and the monochromatic quality of it, it is beautiful without being flashy.

  6. Oh, and the comment is from Brittany.

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