Rayonism
Characteristics of Russian Abstract Painting Movement.

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Red Rayonism (1913)
The Merzinger collection, Switzerland.
Mikhail Larionov.

Rayonism (1912-14)

Contents

What is Rayonism?
History & Development
Rayonist Artists
Rayonist Paintings

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What is Rayonism?

Also known as Rayism and Luchism (luch means ray in Russian), Rayonism was a style of abstract art conceived and developed by Russian artists Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964), his partner Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962) and a small number of followers. It lasted from roughly 1912 to 1914 and represented their own version of Futurism. It was one of several modern art movements which arose in Russia during the early 20th century: others included Russian Futurism (c.1912-14) established by Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930), Suprematism (c.1915-1921) invented by Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935), and Constructivism (c.1919-1930) founded by Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953).

History and Characteristics

In 1906, Larionov discovered Turner and became fascinated with how to depict light in painting. His eventual method, based on a very unclear theory of invisible rays (not unlike the Futurists "lines of force"), was to structure his paintings around beams of slanting lines, resembling rays of light. Hence Rayonism.

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The movement was launched at the Target Exhibition in Moscow in 1913, although Larionov claimed to have been developing Rayonist ideas since 1909. This type of claim was often made by Russian avant-garde abstract painters of the time who wished to appear more prescient than their rivals, and need not be taken too seriously. Also in 1913, Larionov published the Rayonist Manifesto which stated "Rayonism is a synthesis of Cubism, Futurism and Orphism" - which is true. Rayonist paintings do indeed combine the fragmentation and multi-plane approach of Cubism, the dynamic movement of Futurism and the colourism of Orphism. Theoretically, however, things were less clear. The style was based on an unscientific notion of invisible rays, which were thought to be emitted by some objects and picked up by others.

Be this as it may, Rayonist pictures are composed of a mass of slanting lines, depicting beams of light shooting and converging across the picture plane. Colours are typically pure reds, blues and yellows. In later works, however, the beams dominate the picture completely so there is no discernible naturalistic starting point and the work degenerates into complete abstraction as in Larionov's Rayonist composition: Domination of Red (1911) (MOMA).

Rayonist Artists

Although the Rayonist Manifesto was signed by eleven others, including David Burliuk (1882-1967) and Vladimir Burliuk (1886-1916), Odessa-born Larionov and his lifelong companion the Muscovite Natalia Goncharova (related to Alexander Pushkin, Russia's greatest poet) were the only significant exponents of Rayonism. They met in 1900 while studying at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, and were the most talented of all the younger Russian painters represented at the Salon d'Automne in 1906.

They explored Impressionism, Fauvism and their own type of Neo-Primitivism, before encountering the European avant-garde modern art in the form of Cubism and Italian Futurism. Out of this came Rayonism. Larionov served in the Russian army from the outbreak of war, but was invalided out in 1915, whereupon he and Goncharova quit Russia and moved to Switzerland, eventually settling in Paris. They became French citizens in 1938 and married in 1955.

Rayonism ceased when Larionov and Goncharova left Russia, not least because both virtually gave up easel-painting to concentrate on painting theatrical sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes. After Diaghilev's death in 1929 Larionov resumed easel painting without success. His final decade or so was dogged by poverty and ill-health, although his reputation was revived shortly before he died with retrospective exhibitions in Paris (1963 Museum of Modern Art, Hotel de Ville, Paris) and London (1961 Arts Council).

Important Rayonist Paintings

Glass (1909) Private Collection - Larionov
Portrait of a Woman (1911) Pompidou Centre Paris - Larionov
Cats (1913) Guggenheim Museum, New York - Larionov
Red Rayonism (1913) Museum of Modern Art, New York - Larionov
Rayonist Forest (1914) E Rubin Collection - Goncharova

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