GONCHAROVA, NATALYA SERGEEVNA, illustrator.
KHLEBNIKOV, VELIMIR, AND ALEKSEI KRUCHENYKH. Igra v adu [A Game in Hell]. Moscow: G.L. Kuzmin, 1912.
8vo. 14 pp. Original hand-colored lithographed wrappers. Some wear, soiling and foxing.
Provenance: Mikhail Larionov (ownership stamps).
LARIONOV'S PERSONAL HAND-COLORED COPY rubber-stamped "LARINONOW" on the front wrapper and "Bibliothèque Larionow" on the verso of the front wrapper. One of very few known hand-colored copies out of edition of 300 copies. To paraphrase the title of another Russian Futurist publication, Igra v adu arrived like a slap in the face of public taste. No one had ever seen any other book like it. The title refers to a card game played by devils and sinners for their mortal souls, described in "Zaum" or transrational language invented by the two Futurist poets Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh. The design of the publication was unprecedented and revolutionary: it scandalously imitated the look of ancient church missals but with an entirely new approach to decoration. Goncharova was an artistic provacateur who dressed in men's clothing and lived openly with her lover Mikhail Larionov. She belonged to what was coined "neo-Primitivism," a movement that fused elements from French Cubism, Italian Futurism and Russian folk art. The graphics in her books may have looked crude to some (Benois called them "buffoonish little albums"), but the artist was trying for a more immediate, spontaneous form of aesthetic expression free of academic conventions. The text was entirely hand-lettered in imitation of old Slavonic writing and lithographed on one side of the page only with the illustrations cutting in and out of the poetry to create a kinetic state of composition. The books were then assembled by hand; although the publisher claimed that the edition comprised 300 copies, it is doubtful that that number was ever completed. This same title was issued in a second enlarged and larger edition of 800 copies with original lithographs by Kazimir Malevich and Olga Rozanovna in 1914. Not surprisingly, since they were not made from the finest materials and not meant to last as the artists went in and out of favor with critics and authorities, relatively few copies have survived intact. And yet the sheer audacity of this anti-artistic artist's book inspired a whole school of avant-garde book design. Although the color scheme of the hand-colored Igra v adu is similar from one copy to another, each is slightly different and thus a unique work of art. At times the watercolor breaks away from the picture and splashes across the text. Perhaps the only important earlier examples of this sort of artist's book were William Blake's hand-illuminated works. The provenance of this copy could not be greater. Larionov and Goncharova were collaborators in both love and art. It was a time when men and women were considered equals in the world of art and both exchanged ideas through his and her highly experimental work. Larionov and Goncharova went to Paris in 1914 to work with Diaghilev and his Ballet Russe and stayed there. They remained together until her death. After Larionov died in Paris in 1964, his library was dispersed by his heirs.