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Natalia Goncharova & Alexandra Exter

Video clip synopsis – Natalia Goncharova and Alexandra Exter were both Russian artists but where one moved to Paris and incorporated folk art traditions into her work, the other was drawn back to Bolshevik Russia and embraced the revolutionary art of constructivism.
Year of production - 2006
Duration - 5min 0sec
Tags - art, artists, ballet, Betty Churcher, constructivism, design, icons, see all tags


Natalia Goncharova & Alexandra Exter

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About the Video Clip


Natalia Goncharova & Alexandra Exter is an episode of the series Hidden Treasures (15 × 5 mins) produced in 2006.

The National Gallery of Australia has more than 100,000 works in its collection—an extraordinary reservoir of creative vision and cultural history, from decorative arts to photography and sculpture.

Yet on a visit to the gallery, you’ll see only the tip of this iceberg. Carefully stored away are the things that can’t be placed on permanent display.

These unseen gems include works of exquisite fragility, from brilliant hand-painted fabrics to delicate works on paper. From Australia, the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Oceania, there are masks and carvings, lithographs and linocuts, set designs and stage costumes, sketchpads and handprinted books, marionettes and maquettes, teapots and textiles, and much, much more.

Now in this series of micro-docs, former director of the gallery Betty Churcher presents an insider’s guide to some of these 'hidden treasures’.

In the entertaining, accessible style for which she is renowned, Betty Churcher takes us behind the scenes, sharing with us her passion and insights. From her unique vantage point, she makes intriguing connections between a range of different objects and artists, linking them to the stories that surround them.

These are fascinating tales—about the works themselves, the people who created them and the challenge of preserving them—and a tantalising look at some of the ideas and influences that have shaped modern art across the globe.

A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Early Works. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Full program credits

Curriculum Focus


Students are required to research visual artworks from a variety of past and present social and cultural perspectives. Students should also demonstrate an understanding of how histories are constructed in the visual arts both reinforcing and challenging values in the social, cultural and historical contexts in which they are produced.

This is a guide only. Teachers and students should consult their state’s curriculum and learning programs.

Background Information


The Ballet Russe attracted artists to Paris from all over Europe but particularly from Russia. The impresario, Serge Diaghilev, had been barred from employment in any service to the Russian Crown after falling out with the Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg. Instead, he dedicated his talents to promoting the arts of Russia outside Russia and introducing the Russian avant-garde to Paris. Among the first he lured there was Natalia Goncharova.

The costumes she designed for his ballet Le Coq D’Or—now in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection—were exactly what he wanted. The saturated colours and bold designs became the trademark of his performances.

While other European modernists were looking to alternative traditions for their inspiration, to what they referred to as the 'primitive’ art of Africa and Oceania, Goncharova drew on her own. She looked to early Russian religious icons and folk art.

Around the time that Goncharova left Russia, Alexandra Exter was returning, keen to participate in the Bolshevik experiment of 1917. She too loved theatre design, believing it to be the most democratic and inclusive of the arts. However, her costumes were inspired by the abstract geometry of revolutionary Russian constructivism.

Among her work preserved in the National Gallery is her costume design for a Martian guard in the 1924 science-fiction film Aelita–The Queen of Mars, and two marionettes that were to take the place of actors in another silent film, where they were intended to epitomise the commercialism of streetlife in New York.

Although Exter died in poverty and obscurity in 1949, she still had the two marionettes with her, preserved as fond memories of her first flush of enthusiasm for the new order—a symbol of the optimism of those early days of the Russian Revolution.

Classroom Activities

  1. Around 1910, Russian intellectuals began to theorise about the place and purpose of machinery in modern life. The art movement of Soviet constructivism derived from these theories, and from other styles in art such as cubism and futurism. Constructivism eventually became concerned with the view that art had a social purpose, that there should be no pure aesthetic beauty in art at all, but only simple forms and shapes that served an intellectual purpose. Select appropriate artworks from this period and discuss how they express these notions.
  2. Select works by Alexandra Exter and Vladimir Tatlin and explain how they demonstrate the constructivist style.
  3. Compare the influences that impacted on the artworks of Natalia Goncharova and Alexandra Exter. Discuss the major differences in their artworks.
  4. Using materials such as cardboard, tin and wood plies, create a sculpture in the constructivist style. Give important consideration to the space between the forms.
  5. Discuss how constructivist artworks utilise the elements and principles of design in non-objective composition, then create your own composition. Begin by cutting chipboard or lino into small squares and rectangles. These shapes are inked and placed on a sheet of rough paper in the style of the constructivist artists, using normal printing process. When dry, use coloured pencils, crayons, and oil pastels to complete the composition. Shapes may be outlined or linked together with line.

Further Resources


Richard Andrews and Milena Kolinovska (intro), Art Into Life: Russian Constructivism, 1914–1932, Rizzoli, New York, 1990

Russian Avant-Garde Gallery: Natalia Goncharova

Russian Painting: Natalia Goncharova

The Art History Site: Constructivism and Suprematism

The International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction: Russian Suprematist and Constructivist Collage, Relief and Construction