A Russian avant-garde painter, Mikhail Larionov was born in Tiraspol in 1881. He entered The Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1898 where he met fellow student Natalia Goncharova, and the two began their long-term collaboration and partnership.
Emerging from a classical art education his early work included Impressionist influenced landscapes, several of which he exhibited at the Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1906. Further exposed to and influenced by contemporary French painting, he began using strategies of Symbolism, and in 1908 co-organized an exhibition of modern French painting in Moscow which included work of the Post-Impressionists and Fauves. In 1910 he cofounded a group composed of several Russian artists with an interest in Primitivism and the appropriation of provincial folk art. In 1911 with Goncharova he formed a more radical primitivist group that was focused on Russian primitivism and later that year Larionov initiated two highly influential movements: Rayism and Neo-Primitivism. Rayism, the tenets of which were outlined in three 1913 manifestos by Larionov, was inspired by Italian Futurism and was a style of pre-Constructivist art with slanting lines and painted rays – the first creation of near-abstract art in Russia. Neo-Primitivism, for which Larionov became known among the European avant-garde, was a fusion of his interests in Fauvism and Expressionism.
Larionov and Goncharova left Russia in 1915 for Lausanne and Paris, touring with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes: Larionov's commissions for Diaghilev included designs for the ballets The Midnight Sun (Soleil de nuit) and Russian Tales (Contes Russes). By 1919, he had settled in Paris, where he often collaborated with Cubist and Dada painters and poets. He also began to focus on graphic work: he published in the fourth Bauhaus portfolio, and contributed illustrations to Vladimir Mayakovsky's canonical poem, "The Sun," in 1923. Throughout the 1920s, he continued to work for Diaghilev as a set designer and artistic advisor, returning to painting (primarily figurative oils) only after Diaghilev's death in 1929. Larionov remained in Paris with Goncharova and died in 1950 in relative obscurity.
Larionov (together with Goncharova) has been the subject of retrospective exhibitions at multiple institutions, including the Arts Council Gallery, London (1961); Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris (1963); Musée d'Ixelles, Brussels (1976); Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1995); and Christchurch Art Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand (2010).