Ukrainian French artist Sonia Delaunay's vibrant oeuvre puts focus on the relationship of colour and form, expressing visual poetry through paintings and textile. She was a major figure in the development of early 20th-century Modernism, co-founding the Orphism art movement and becoming the first living woman to be the subject of a retrospective at the Louvre.Read More
Sonia Delaunay was born in Odessa, then in the Russian Empire and now in present-day Ukraine. She spent her childhood in St. Petersburg under the care of adoptive parents, assuming the name Sonia Terk. She and her family travelled across Europe during the summer, which exposed Delaunay to different museums and galleries. At the age of 18, she moved to Germany to study drawing at the Karlsruhe Academy of Fine Arts until later relocating to Paris in 1906.
In Paris, Delaunay married German art dealer and gallerist Uhde, who was influential in Delaunay's French citizenship, career, and prominence in the art world. Through Uhde, she met French artist Robert Delaunay, whom she later married. Together with Robert Delaunay, they pioneered the Orphism movement, which was characterised by an aesthetic that merged qualities of Neo-impressionism and Cubism.
Sonia Delaunay's early work was greatly influenced by the vibrant colour palette and energy of the Fauvist movement. Initially uninspired by the academic nature of the Paris art scene, she went on to explore the nature of colour and its poetic qualities. During her life, Delaunay often compared colour to poetry, understanding that different combinations of colour could evoke different and simultaneous meanings, previously saying that, 'colors are words, their relations rhythms.'
Prior to developing her renowned style of abstraction and composition, Delaunay's work was inspired by the Cubist tradition. Her figurative works such as Yellow Nude (1908) play with impressionistic features and multiple perspectives. In this painting, Delaunay illustrates a reclining nude figure with graphic lines that point at the woman's prominent features, rather than painting an entirely realistic representation.
After the birth of her and Robert Delaunay's son, Sonia Delaunay stitched a patchwork quilt, which then became the basis of her turn to abstraction. This quilt, constructed in 1911, was a spontaneous composition that involved pinks, maroons, creams, greens, and blacks and was made through Russian folk-art techniques that she had learned growing up.
Influenced by her quilt, the Sonia and Robert Delaunay developed a unique visual language that put importance on the relationship between colour and form and on the multiplicity of meanings that can come from these partnerships. They coined this style simultanéisme (simultaneity), which later was renamed to Orphic Cubism or Orphism by French poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire.
Sonia then turned to creating colour-blocked paintings that feature geometric forms with nearly indistinguishable subjects. In 1913, she painted Bal Bullier (1913), an 11-foot-wide canvas full of vibrant colours and rectangular forms coupled with more organic and curved shapes. This painting referenced the dance hall that the Delaunays frequented, and, upon closer inspection, a viewer might begin to see the work littered with couples dancing across the scene.
Aside from painting, Delaunay also explored textile design. She designed costumes for the Ballets Russes' Cléopâtre in 1917. These garments integrated her painting's geometric style with gold detailing and textured fabrics. By the 1920s, she established a studio named Sonia and created clothing for private clients, which included garments such as work attire, swimming costumes, and driving caps.
Delaunay experimented with different patterns in her designs, such as integrating floral motifs and text. These included her poem dresses, inspired by the Paris avantgarde, which she made by embroidering Surrealist text onto her clothes.
Delaunay's works have been widely exhibited and celebrated internationally. Her work has been collected by major institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate, London; and the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
Arianna Mercado | Ocula | 2022