Natalia Goncharova's beautiful and evocative Magnolias is offered from the collection of the prominent art critic Raymond Cogniat who wrote for Le Figaro as well as serving as General Inspector of Fine Art, curating numerous exhibitions and founding the International Association of Art Critics with Georges Wildenstein (1892-1963). Cogniat was captivated by Goncharova's work, writing in 1932 in L'Amour de l'Art of her talent and importance. In 1959 Cogniat and his close friend André Malraux, the Minister of Culture for France, founded the Biennale de Paris, intended to serve as a forum for artistic creation and to showcase emerging talent. Cogniat was much more than a critic; an integral figure in the French art world, he was a tireless promoter of artists.
Motivated no doubt by his admiration for her skill and imagination, Cogniat befriended both Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov. Together with Jean Cassou, the founder and director of Musée National d'Art Moderne, Cogniat used his influence at the Direction Générale des Beaux-Arts to secure their acquisition of Espagnole in 1951, now held in the collection of Paris's National Museum of Modern Art: '[Goncharova] has lived in France for forty years and has played an important role in contemporary art since she arrived [...] [she] lives in miserable conditions. I propose the acquisition of an Espagnole.' (letter held in the Archives Nationales, Paris, F21/6931).
The arresting Magnolias foreshadows the series devoted to this subject exhibited in 1939 at the rue Jacques Callot. The contrasting colours (white versus black for the background, white versus ochre and green for the magnolias) serve to enhance the painting's tonal richness. Goncharova's virtuosity is revealed in her skillful rendering of texture: the softness of the petals offset by the solid form of the table and leaves. Floral imagery proved a pervasive presence in Goncharova's oeuvre: consider her 1907 Self-portrait with yellow lilies (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) and the recurring motifs in her depictions of Spanish women.
The label attached to the stretcher of the present work inscribed 'Lucien Lefebvre-Foinet' reveals another aspect of Goncharova's life in Paris. Lefebvre-Foinet, the main supplier of canvas and oil paints in Paris at the time, inevitably established close relationships with numerous contemporary artists including Giacometti, Max Ernst and Goncharova among others. Goncharova was close to Lucien and considered him 'calm, good, clement and serious, which is not always easy in the craziness of this life' (inscription on the reverse of Goncharova's Fleurs blanches et jaunes, sold from the collection of Lefebvre-Foinet, Christie's, Paris, 1 December 2009, lot 58.) In addition to the artistic elements of the present work, which speak to Goncharova's vision of nature and proclivity for figurative work, Magnolias further testifies to the artist's full integration into Parisian artistic life through its connection to both the city's finest art critic and its most important supplier.