Donkey's Tail
Radical Avant-Garde Russian Artists Exhibition Group.

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For styles, see: Art Movements.

Donkey's Tail: Russian Artist Group (1911-12)


Russian Avant-Garde Artists' Exhibition Group
World of Art and the Golden Fleece
Split from Knave of Diamonds Group
Donkey's Tail Art Exhibition

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Moscow Street (1909)
Private Collection.
By Natalia Goncharova, one of the
founders of the Donkey's Tail group.
Notice the primitivist composition
with its flat, geometric Cubist forms.

Russian Avant-Garde Artists' Exhibition Group

In modern art, the term "Donkey's Tail group" (from the Russian phrase "Oslinyi Khvost") refers to a radical artists' exhibition group founded in 1911, by Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964) and Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962). An important, if short-lived, pointer to trends in Russian art in the run-up to the Bolshevik Revolution, the Donkey's Tail association was a breakaway from the larger Knave of Diamonds group, founded in Moscow in 1910. The latter was set up for the purpose of promoting avant-garde art from Europe and Russia, focusing initially on modern art movements such as Neo-Impressionism (1880s), Fauvism (1905-7), Expressionism (1905-13) and Cubism (1908-14), including the newly formed Section d'Or group, all of which were relatively familiar to modern artists in Russia and the Ukraine, thanks to the work of groups like World of Art and Blue Rose/Golden Fleece.

World of Art and the Golden Fleece

The World of Art (Mir iskusstva) (1898-1924) was a society founded by a group of young Russian artists in St Petersburg, including Alexander Benois (1870-1960), Leon Bakst (1866-1924), Konstantin Somov (1869-1939) and Yevgeny Lanceray (1875-1946), as a means of promoting Russian modernism to Europe and vice versa. Artists as diverse as Philip Maliavin, Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953) and Marc Chagall (1887-1985) took part in the society's exhibitions, the last of which occurred in 1924. The Golden Fleece (c.1905-9) was the influential monthly magazine of the seminal avant-garde artist society known as the Blue Rose group. Prominent members and exhibitors with Blue Rose included Larionov and Goncharova, Pavel Kuznetsov (1878-1968), Nikolai Sapunov (1880–1912), Martiros Saryan (1880–1972) and Sergei Sudeikin (1882–1946).



Split from Knave of Diamonds Group

As it was, during the inaugural show of the Knave of Diamonds group, an intensive debate took place between David Burlyuk (1882-1967), who was strongly supportive of Western art, and Natalia Goncharova, who preferred Russian themes. As a result, the Russian artists split into two camps. The more traditional camp - that is, those painters inspired by primitive art, or native Russian themes and motifs such as icon painting, and various types of folk art - led by Larionov and Goncharova - accused their more western-oriented colleagues led by Burliuk (including the Russian expatriates Wassily Kandinsky and Alexei von Jawlensky) of being dominated by decadent foreign traditions, and quickly formed the breakaway Donkey's Tail artists' group in order to promote 20th century paintings inspired by exclusively Russian themes.

Donkey's Tail Art Exhibition

The actual name "Donkey's Tail" was chosen after Larionov read an article about some French art students who had created a painting by tying a brush to a donkey's tail, and then showed it at the jury-free Salon des Independants in Paris. The only art exhibition held by the Donkey's Tail group took place in Moscow in March 1912, and was the first major all-Russian show of its kind. It represented a deliberate break with European traditions in favour of work inspired by native Russian sources. Famous 20th century painters from Russia who participated, included Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935), inventor of Suprematism; as well as Lyubov Popova (1889-1924); and Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953), founder of Constructivism. Most of the works exhibited were in the Neo-Primitivist style. Goncharova's religious art (The Four Evangelists, 1910-11, Russian Museum, St Petersburg) was criticized as blasphemous and caused a public outcry. Shortly afterwards, the Donkey's Tail group disbanded, whereupon the indefatigable Larionov and Goncharova founded Rayonism (c.1912-14) - a style of painting based on 'decadent' Orphism - and staged two more shows - the Target exhibition (1913) and No 4 - Futurists, Rayonists, Primitives (1914), after which they emigrated to Paris, where they painted theatrical sets for Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes. They never returned to Russia.

More Information
For more about art in Moscow and St Petersburg, see:
- Petrine Art
- Russian Painting 18th Century
- Russian Painting 19th Century


Works by members of the Donkey's Tail (or Ass's Tail) group hang in many of the world's best art museums, including: the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow; the State Russian Museum, St Petersburg; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Samuel R Guggenheim Museum, New York; Neue Pinakothek, Munich; Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris; Kunstmuseum, Basel; and the Tate Collection, London.

• For a chronological guide to the evolution of Russian painting, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For information about avant-garde painting and sculpture in Russia, see: Homepage.

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