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Art Watch : Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay is our Art Watch Artist for today. This section is brought to you by Art From Us and Divvya Nirula. The Artists we spotlight here can be from any field, across nay discipline, and using a variety of media. We share here why we think they are important and worth watching. Be it genius creators of eras gone by. Or the upcoming contemporary artist who is yet to have their first show. All come under the purview of Art Watch. 

Sonia Delaunay was creating works at a time when cubism ruled the European art world. Born in the Ukraine, trained in Germany and finally finding work and love in Paris, Sonia was one half of an avante-garde couple that was inspiring, and highly influential in the second decade of the 1900s. Colour was extremely important to Sonia and her husband/artistic other half – Robert. They saw it as the final key to breaking barriers – a universal visual language that was evocative and strong, with a universal message and meter.

She and her husband would often collaborate with French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who coined the term Orphism (1912) for the kind of work that they were doing. ‘Simultaneism’, was what Sonia and Robert coined their work as – for them visual expression – through abstraction and colour was the ultimate form of communication for humankind. There was nothing above the feeling and emotional value of the colours they used – their need to share and create.

Unfortunately, like many female artists whose works were overshadowed by those of their artist spouses. However, Sonia’s contribution to Modernism was considerable in its own right, and she radically pushed forward the investigation of the European avant-garde.

Why Sonia Delaunay?

Born in 1885 in Odessa, Ukraine, as Sarah Élievna Stern, young Sonia was initially raised by her poor Jewish family. At the age of  five she was sent to live with her Uncle, Henri Terk, in St. Petersburg at. She was always interested in art and was creative from an early age, independent and strong, she pursued an art education and learnt drawing at the Karlsruhe Academy of Fine Arts in Germany, and eventually moved to Paris in 1906.

In pursuit of her passion, Delaunay moved to Germany to attend art school, and then eventually went on to Paris, where she enrolled in l’Académie de la Palette. It was when she was in Paris, she married her gallerist Wilhelm Uhde to save her from moving back to Russia.

Delaunay exhibited her art for the first time at his gallery and through him met many important figures in the Parisian art scene, including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and her future husband, Robert Delaunay. Sonia and Robert married in 1910.

In 1911, Sonia and Robert Delaunay’s son was born. An incident marks her obsession with art, creativity and colour. As a baby blanket, she sewed a patchwork quilt of brilliant colors, reminiscent of the bright colors of folkloric Ukrainian textiles. This quilt is an early example of the Delaunays’ commitment to ‘Simultaneity’, a way of combining contrasting colors to create a sensation of movement in the eye. “For me there is no gap between my painting and my so-called ‘decorative’ work, I never considered the ‘minor arts’ to be artistically frustrating; on the contrary, it was an extension of my art” – she said.

Artistic Journey

During the 1920s Delaunay designed textiles and dresses, and her use of abstract colour harmonies had a strong influence on international fashion. However she returned to her first love painting, in the 1930s, and joined the Abstraction-Création association in 1931. Sonia and Robert Delaunay soon became immersed in public art projects, and it was the beginning of their collaborations on vast murals for the Paris Exposition of 1937. On the even of the World War II, when her husband Robert passed away, in 1941, Delaunay continued to work as a painter and designer, and she lived to see the mounting of retrospectives of her work by major museums from the 1950s onward.

Delaunay was the first living female artist to have a retrospective at the Louvre in 1964. Her talent was recognised and she was named an officer of the French Legion of Honor in 1975, a title her husband never received.

Her prolific career provided a wide variety of works which continue to captivate collectors; her 1916 Marché au Minho sold for $3.9 million in 2002. Her works can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and many other major institutions.


For more Artists handpicked by Divvya Nirula – explore the ART WATCH archive.

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