Russian avant-garde movement invented by the artists Mikhail Larionov and his partner Natalya Goncharova. Influenced by Cubism and Futurism, the style was characterised by dynamically intersecting lines or rays.

Natalya Goncharova La Forêt [The Forest] About 1913 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018.

The Origins of Rayonism

Rayonism was art early twentieth century art movement founded by the Russian artists Mikhail Larionov and Natalya Goncharova in 1912. Both artists were involved with the nationalistic, Neo-primitive group known as the Jack of Diamonds in Russia which brought together elements of Russian folk art with Western, modernist ideas. Together they broke away to stage the hugely eclectic exhibition The Donkey’s Tail in 1912, where they first exhibited some early examples of the Rayonist style.

Much like their contemporaries across the world, including the Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism, the Rayonists were drawn to an abstract language of representation. Larionov described Rayonism as a ’synthesis of Cubism, Futurism and Orphism.’ They held an official launch for the movement at an exhibition titled Target in Moscow in 1913, accompanied by a manifesto signed by thirteen artists.

Key Rayonist Ideas

Rayonists aimed to create an art that represented the immaterial world beyond the human eye, or the ‘fourth dimension’, by capturing the rays of light reflected off objects in the material world. Dynamic lines were added to their paintings, to suggest the movement of light and energy. Recent scientific discoveries on the discovery of xrays and radioactive rays may have influenced their depictions of time and space and a further reality beyond the naked eye. Rayonists also connected with the radical ideas of Russian mathematician Peter D Ouspensky, who had explored concepts relating to the fourth dimension in his books The Fourth Dimension, 1909, and Tertium Organum, 1912, which he described as a realm only accessible to artists and mystics.

Rayonism celebrated various aspects of modern life through changing subjects, including depictions of the machine age through trains, factories  and aeroplanes, as well as portrayals of mystical, imaginary landscapes and even portraiture. Rather than focussing on one subject they developed an interest in popular culture and materiality, known as faktura, in an aim to break down barriers between art and life.

Much like their Russian-German contemporary Wassily Kandinsky, colour played a vital role in Rayonist paintings, with artists drawn to its expressive and spiritual qualities. Goncharova said, ‘Colours affect the mentality, they are closely linked to a state of mind or morality … and at the same time they express an atmosphere, an environment.’

Realistic and Pneumo Rayonism

Early examples of the Rayonist style were representational subjects that were then fractured by rays of light and geometric facets reminiscent of Cubism, such as Goncharova’s La Foret, (The Forest), 1913, which formed part of a gradual move towards abstraction. She said her Rayist paintings were, ‘moving towards the pure sources of autonomous art – colour, form and compositional tasks.’

In July 1913 Larionov published a statement outlining ‘Pneomo-Rayonism’ as the next development in modern art, where the depiction of real objects was abandoned entirely for the representation of the ‘fourth dimension’ alone, through light rays and vivid colours, as seen in Larionov’s Rayist Composition, 1913.

Future Developments

Both Larionov and Goncharova abandoned Rayonism when they moved to Paris in 1914 to work as theatre and costume designers for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. Their interests in Russian nationalism and geometric abstraction led the way for the Russian Constructivists including Lyubov Popova, El Lissitsky, Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchecko as well as the Suprematism of Kasimir Malevich, exerting a vital influence on the development of abstract art.

Artists

Mikhail Larionov
1881 - 1964
Natalya Goncharova
1881 - 1962