Mystical Images of War from Natalia Goncharova

Perhaps we can understand our jingoist present by examining our warring past. Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), was the first woman artist in the avant-garde of Russia. She was a painter, print maker, writer, and provocateur.

She created costumes and set backdrops for the Ballet Russes of Sergei Diaghilev. She married fellow avant-garde artist Mikhail Larionov, the two becoming inseparable life partners. Goncharova believed the basis for the Russian avant-garde could be found in its ancient and traditional folk and religious art.

Natalia Goncharova, face painted. 1913.

In 1914 when the First World War broke out, Goncharova created a series of fourteen lithographic prints she titled Mystical Images of War. The prints were based on an age-old Russian art-form known as lubok; these were simple drawings based on religious stories and popular tales that were usually made into woodcut prints. But Mystical Images of War was more much more than that, Goncharova’s prints were a window into the future… and the future is here.

Going about your daily business maybe you haven’t noticed, but the US is fighting a proxy war with Russia five thousand miles away in a place called Ukraine. To fight the now six-month old war, the man in the White House has given the Ukrainian government sophisticated weaponry to fight the Russian invaders, lethal shipments worth $67 billion—which is more than the yearly Russian military expenditure of some $61 billion.

President Putin has told the West that a military attack on Russia could provoke a nuclear response. President Zelensky of Ukraine says NATO should launch a “preemptive strike” against Russia before Putin can use nukes. And doddering ‘ol Biden… well, he says “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis.” The US possesses 5,428 nuclear warheads, Russia has 5,977 warheads. Anything can spark a conflagration.

Are you paying attention yet?

Did you ever read about the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria? He was killed by a Bosnian Serb nationalist, which touched off WWI, a war that took the lives of around 13 million civilians and some 11 million soldiers.

Recall when US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a presentation at the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003? He sold the idea of going to war with Iraq, telling the American people and the world that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction,” and would use them to harm the West.

Powell, holding a vial filled with white powder to show the dangers of small amounts of anthrax, said: “Less than a teaspoonful of dry anthrax in an envelope shut down the United States Senate in the fall of 2001, Saddam Hussein could have produced 6,600 gallons. If concentrated into this dry form, this amount would be enough to fill tens upon tens upon tens of thousands of teaspoons.” The next month the US invaded Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction were never found.

The US-Iraq war killed 4,586 US soldiers, civilian deaths were estimated to be anywhere from 151,000 to 1 million.

From 1914 Natalia Goncharova gave us the true face of war. Fearing the chaos that would come in the war’s aftermath, Natalia and Mikhail left Russia for France, taking up residence in Paris where they permanently settled. So now that Armagideon Times are drawing closer, contemplate the truths of Mystical Images of War.

“Angels and Airplanes.” Natalia Goncharova. Lithograph. 1914.

Angels and Airplanes—Do the Angels hinder or help the airplanes? Do they curse or bless the pilots? Today’s planes are different, but the question remains… who is evil and who is righteous, and how do you tell the difference? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either… but right through every human heart.”

“The Doomed City.” Natalia Goncharova. Lithograph. 1914.

The Doomed City—The Angels of the Lord destroy the city. Who lives in the city, Ukrainians, Russians, Americans? Who is innocent, who is guilty? Remember Dresden? Recall Nagasaki? Angels told Lot to flee Sodom, and God rained fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, destroying these places for their degenerate sins. Where is today’s modern Sodom? Will atomic fire destroy Gomorrah?

“The Pale Horse.” Natalia Goncharova. Lithograph. 1914.

The Pale Horse—The Black Sun rises, some tattoo the symbol on their bodies, others wear it as a military patch on their flak vest body armor, still others pretend it does not exist at all. Death, with wings of darkness, rides a pale horse, its hooves crush the bones of thousands… the black scythe is ready to reap the next mound of heads.

“A Common Grave.” Natalia Goncharova. Lithograph. 1914.

A Common Grave—An Angel appears and provides a mass grave for all the sinners, carrion crow come to eat their flesh. The war is over, but the next one is about to begin.

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