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1 Painting in Collection

Sonia Delaunay


Works in Select Public Collections

Musee National d’ Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; The Tate Gallery, London, England; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, CA; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Kunstalle, Bielefeld, West Germany; Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI; Davis Museum, Wellesley College, MA; Art Institute of Chicago, IL

Selected Recent Exhibitions

Sonia Delaunay, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, 2022

Exalted Color: The Art and Fashion of Sonia Delaunay, St. Louis Museum of Art, MO, 2022

Music and Movement: Rhythm in Textile Design, Art Institute of Chicago, IL, 2018-19

Sonia Delaunay, The Tate Modern, London, England, 2015

Sonia Delaunay: A Retrospective, Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 1980. Traveled to Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York, NY; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Musee d’ Art Contemporain, Montreal, Canada 1980-1981


Sonia Delaunay: A Retrospective, Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 1980

Nous irons jusqu'au soleil (We shall go up to the sun), autobiography by Sonia Delaunay, 1978

Born 1885 Gradizhsk, Russia (today Ukraine)
Died 1979 Paris, France

Abstract Composition, 1970
Color Lithograph, ed. 4/25
23 ½ x 17 ½”

Sonia Delaunay co-founded with her husband, Robert Delaunay, the Orphism art movement which employed bold, contrasting colors and geometric shapes to enliven compositional surfaces. Sonia explored Orphism through numerous mediums including decades of innovative work in textile design. She was the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre (1964) and her work in fashion, set design and textiles continues to influence artists today.

Born Sara Stern in the Russian countryside to relatively poor parents, Sonia was adopted at age five by her wealthy uncle, Henri Terk, a lawyer in St. Petersburg. Sonia moved from the country to a lavish home in the city and became Sonia Terk. She lived a fashionable but socially prescribed life with three governesses from whom she learned French, German and English.

At age 14 Sonia received her first paint box from an artist friend. Her drawing teacher saw promise in her work and encouraged Sonia’s guardians to send her abroad for further artistic study. In 1903 she was sent to a university in Germany where she continued to pursue drawing. There she was introduced to the work of the Impressionists. Attracted to the looseness and natural sensuality of their canvases, she moved to Paris when she was twenty and enrolled in classes at the Académie de la Palette. Soon thereafter she abandoned the formal lessons and set up her own studio.

By 1908 she was under pressure to return home to St. Petersburg to marry and settle down. Delaunay opted instead to marry Wilhelm Uhde, a German gallery owner who advanced the work of the European avant-garde. Theirs was a marriage of friendship and convenience as Uhde sought social cover for his homosexuality and Delaunay wanted access to her dowry so that she might remain in Paris.

Uhde gave Delaunay her first solo show that same year. She was making paintings and drawings that were not yet fully abstract in style but integrated the modernist ideas that surrounded her. Familiar with the innovations of Matisse, Gauguin and Van Gogh, Delaunay was attracted to their bold use of color and patterning, and the emotional intensity of their canvases. She painted expressive portraits with large areas of intense, flat color and the black outlines of the Fauves.

Sonia met Robert Delaunay through her husband in 1907. The two immediately engaged in conversation about art and artistic properties. In 1909, Sonia and Uhde spent the summer across the street from Robert Delaunay in the countryside outside of Paris. Sonia and Robert spent time walking and looking at art together. They both had been struck by the raw appeal of Henri Rousseau’s canvases that Uhde had exhibited in his gallery. Rousseau’s approach inspired them to work from nature.

It was that summer that Sonia began her first embroidery work, remembering the colorful textiles of Russian folk art that she had been exposed to as a child. Some critics have suggested that Sonia abandoned painting at this time because Robert Delaunay did not like the competition. It is difficult to know if that is what prompted Sonia to begin what became many decades exploring ideas about color, pattern and form through the decorative arts. In 1910 Uhde and Sonia amicably divorced and she immediately married Robert. The Delaunay’s son, Charles, was born in 1911.

The family lived in Paris and were part of a crowd of artists and poets who were investigating a myriad of new ideas for self-expression. Sonia was enchanted by the emotional possibilities of color and she and Robert began to explore pairing colors that were opposites. In contrasting two complimentary colors—red and green, blue and orange, yellow and violet—they found the colors were more vivid. Robert was engaged in scientifically understanding different color theories and in his reading discovered the phrase “simultaneous contrast” in a 19th century treatise on color. Together, they developed what they called “simultanéisme” (Simultanism which later became Orphism), an approach to art making that was not focused on the representation of objects, or figures but rather on the juxtaposition of colors.

Sonia’s approach was more intuitive than Robert’s. Using applique much like the Cubists approached their collage work, she assembled colored paper and fabrics cut in simple shapes. Creating patterns with the forms, she would establish rhythms and then disrupt them inserting an arc or a thrusting diagonal into the composition. She used this approach to making and applied it to nearly every object in their home, creating quilts, pillows, curtains and lampshades. She also began to use her fabric for clothing, creating “simultaneous dresses” that she wore to gatherings and parties. In 1913 she collaborated with poet Blaise Cendrars to create the “first simultaneous book.” The book was a long accordion folded sheet that had Cendrars’ poem on one side and Delaunays’ drawings opposite. The all-encompassing nature of Delaunay’s approach to art was celebrated among Parisian artists and served as inspiration for poets as well as painters.

In spring of 1914 the Delaunays left Paris for Spain. After war was declared, they remained in Madrid and then moved to Portugal. In 1917 their primary source of income from Sonia’s aunt disappeared because of the Russian Revolution and Sonia leaned into her design work for revenue. In 1918, she designed her first costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s famous Ballets Russes. Simultaneously she designed clothes and household objects for Spain’s aristocracy. Despite Madrid’s lucrative marketplace, the couple returned to Paris in 1921 and begin close associations with both the Dadaists and the Surrealists.

Delaunay’s instinct to incorporate art and design into every aspect of her life resonated with the Dadaists desire to reconnect art to everyday existence. The Delaunay’s new home became a regular gathering place for both the Dadaists and the Surrealists. Visitors were invited to collaborate on decorating the house by writing poems and executing drawings on the walls. While the couple was popular with the artists’ community, their paintings did not sell well. Sonia worked as an interior designer while designing and selling scarves and dresses, incorporating words and poetry into her bold geometric patterns. Eventually, she established her own fabric print shop where she could control the color combinations more accurately. By 1924 Delaunay was exhibiting her fabrics at the Salon d’ Automne.

In 1925 Delaunay created a shop, The Boutique Simultaneé, in the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts intended to reassert France as the center of fashion and design. Delaunay’s simplified designs and striking color combinations were resoundingly popular and set the tone for French decorative arts for decades to follow. To honor Delaunay’s contribution, the Librarie des Arts Decoratifs published a portfolio of her designs accompanied by poems by her Dadaist friends.

The onset of the Depression prompted the Delaunays to close Sonia’s business and refocus their energies on painting once again. In 1937 they were asked to produce murals for the interior and exterior of two buildings for the Paris World’s Fair. Using the airplane as the central theme, each Delaunay took responsibility for sections of the commission. Their artistic and visual collaboration is evident in the final works—Robert’s abstract reliefs included interlocking circles and figures in motion and Sonia’s concentric circles and spirals of color mimic the motions of an airplane’s propellors and instrument panels. This commission led to a period of great attention for the couple. Among the many awards Sonia received during her lifetime was a gold medal for these murals.

Unfortunately Robert's health had begun to decline by the late 1930s and after his death from cancer in 1941 life became difficult for Sonia. She survived financially by selling her designs and Robert's paintings and was emotionally buoyed by spending time with the Sophie Tauber and Jean Arp in Grasse, France. Sonia remained in Grasse until the end of war when she returned to Paris committed to overseeing Robert’s artistic legacy. In 1946 there was a retrospective of Robert’s work and subsequent showings in Paris and abroad.

By 1948 Sonia Delaunay began to return attention to her own work. She did a series of important gouaches called Rhythme coloré. The series of broken and interlocking circles in primary colors show the evolution of her thinking about the interconnection of color and form. There is a rhythm and a tension that is evident in these works that is compelling. It is an approach to compositions that she continued through the 1950s.

The lithograph in the Wolfson Collection, Abstract Composition, is a continuation of the abstract color work begun in the 1950s. The pattern of half circles, offset triangles and broken arcs are established parts of Delaunay’s language by this time in her life. Her use of bold primary colors and abstract patterning which she experimented with throughout her lifetime proves remarkably current and appealed to entirely new generations in the 1970s and 80s. In recognition of her decades of influence on French culture and design in 1958 Delaunay was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres and in 1975 was named an officer of the French Légion d’Honneur.

In the last two decades of Delaunay’s life, in addition to making prints, she continued to create fabrics and clothing. In 1976 she was commissioned by the French company Artcurial to create a body of work in textiles, tableware and jewelry. In 1980 the Albright Knox Art Gallery organized a major retrospective of her work that traveled to museums throughout the United States and Canada. In 1984 U.S. designer Perry Ellis devoted his fall collection to Delaunay, producing knits and prints in her colors and patterns. She died in at age 94 in Paris.

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