20th Century Artists

Sonia Delaunay was a pioneer in the abstract art, deeply influenced by the laws of ‘simultaneous contrasts’. Purely abstract, her work is neverthless lyrical and harmonious. Brightly coloured arabesques, concentric circles, triangles, and rectangles composed her paintings and prints. Delaunay wanted to symbolize modernity as well as the experiences of simultaneity that urban life provides.


Sonia Delaunay - cover catalogue

Sonia Delaunay was at the forefront of cultural developments in europe throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Born in the Ukraine in 1885, she grew up in St Petersburg and studied fine arts in Karlsruhe, Germany. In 1905 she moved to Paris, and she was based there for the rest of her life with her husband, Robert Delaunay, and their circle of friends including the poets Apollinaire and Cendrars.

Sonia was a pioneer of ‘Orphism’ (1910-13); the movement Apollinaire described as focusing on pure abstraction and bright colours, influenced by Fauvism and the dye chemist Eugène Chevreul. Orphism aimed to move away from recognizable subject matter and to rely on form and colour alone to communicate meaning. The movement also aimed to express the ideals of 'Simultanism': representing an infinitude of connected states of being all existing at the same time to describe the modern urban condition.

Delaunay’s work was characterised by the use of strong colours and geometric abstract shapes. Her language of animated, curving compositions of pure colour extended from painting and printmaking to textiles, stage set design and modern design including furniture, fabrics, wall coverings clothing and even a car. She said (in 1949):

‘The real new painting will begin when people understand that colour has a life of its own … there are new and infinite possibilities.’

Sonia Delaunay

Sonia's paintings were preceded by numerous colour studies, which explored light, colour and movement [see ‘Rythme Coloré’ (above), gouache and watercolour on paper, signed and dated 1942]. Around one hundred and fifty of her prints have also been documented, and nearly one-third of these are book illustrations. From 1968 she began working with the writer and publisher Jacques Damase who edited nearly 80 lithographs.

Her reputation was established with a full-scale retrospective at the Musée Nationale d’Art Moderne in Paris in 1967. She was the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre in 1964 and in 1975 she received the highest cultural accolade possible in France: the Légion d’honneur. Her work can be found in numerous public and private collections including the Tate, London, the Louvre and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

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