Oil on canvas, each panel 204 x 58 cm. Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.
Natalia Goncharova was one of the first Russian artists to embrace "Neo-primitivism" -- a graphic style reminiscent of traditional folk art. She explored it with a unique energy and skill, and was influential in making icon painting a source of inspiration for 20th-century Russian artists. In addition, Goncharova's works painted in this style are especially important as examples of a "synthesis" of European style and Russian national tradition (Gray 97).
The Evangelists are among Goncharova's first mature works devoted to a religious subject. The canvasses are remarkable for their skillful reconciliation of old and new influences in Russian art. Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of these four paintings is their effective use of color, line, and composition to create a strong rhythmic whole. Goncharova manipulates these elements with such understanding and perception that when one looks at the four authors of the Gospels there are no distractions and no weak points -- only strength and security in a modern interpretation of tradition and native style. Both line and color become here "expressive entities in their own right" and convey the sense of calm spirituality and wisdom treasured by icon painters (97). However, what the Neo-primitivists of Goncharova's time might have treasured most was an almost childish "directness and simplicity" characteristic of folk art (97), which they tried to imitate in their works. Today, the four paintings of the Evangelists may be admired for many reasons, and regardless of the basis for the viewer's appreciation, they definitely are an integral part of the Russian avant-garde movement. [C.B.].
[Sources: Gray, Bowlt].