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Fantastic Design-Sonia Delaunay

May 13, 2015

Sonia Delaunay is currently on at the Tate Modern, London, (until Aug 9) and I really recommend a viewing if you get a chance. It’s a huge retrospective and amongst many paintings and drawings, the exhibition gives a considerable focus to Sonia’s work as a print, textile and clothes designer.

Born in 1885, Sonia Delaunay was an artist who made a significant contribution to the Parisian avant-garde in the Twentieth Century, and was one of the pioneers of abstraction.

Sonia Delaunay, Yellow Nude 1908 Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Nantes © Pracusa 2014083

An early work by Sonia, before she met Robert Delaunay. Sonia Delaunay, Yellow Nude 1908
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Nantes
© Pracusa 2014083

 

She was adopted at a young age by a wealthy uncle, who changed her name from Sara Stern to Sofia Terk, though everyone called her Sonia. He ensured that she not only learned English, German and French but felt comfortable in museums and galleries. She also travelled widely in Europe from her home town of Odessa in Russia. By co-incidence, the day I was visiting a class of American kindergarteners came to the Tate as well. They were only five years old, and it was nice to think that some of these cosmopolitan girls who had flown such a long way to visit the art establishments of England might grow up to be confident and self assured enough in the realms of art to also alter the course of art history, in time.

Sonia studied art at the Art Academy in Karlsruhe at the age of 19, and by 21 had moved to Paris to continue her studies at the Academie de la Palette. Wishing to stay in Paris at the end of her studies, she married a gay man, Wilhelm Uhde, in an arrangement that was good for both of them. He was a gallerist and gave her her first show.

Prismes électriques 1914 Sonia Delaunay © Pracusa 2013057 © CNAP

Prismes électriques 1914
Sonia Delaunay
© Pracusa 2013057
© CNAP

 

Sonia’s work was technically accomplished, very bold, very strongly coloured and influenced by artists like Gauguin and the Die Brucke Group. But it was when she met and later married the painter Robert Delaunay that she soared. They must have spent days and nights talking about colour, about abstraction and form non stop. They developed a theory together. Called “Simultanism” it related to simultaneous colour contrast, and followed the work of the nineteenth Century chemist Michel-Eugene Chevreul.

Sonia herself in her studio.

Sonia herself in her studio.

 

Sonia Delaunay's cot cover.

Sonia Delaunay’s cot cover.

 

Sonia enthusiastically applied this theory not only to her paintings but to her home, making cushions, lampshades and a cot cover for her baby’s bed which she claimed as an abstract artwork. I see it as a rather lumpy version of a technique which has been used for generations, and not an artwork in itself, but I see how the blocks of colour and shapes which fitted themselves together would be an inspiration to future abstract paintings.

Sonia Delaunay in front of her door-poem in the Delaunays’ apartment, Boulevard Malesherbes, Paris 1924  © Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

Sonia Delaunay in front of her door-poem in the Delaunays’ apartment, Boulevard Malesherbes, Paris 1924
© Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris.

 

Sonia was in demand, creating illustrations to poems that were not illustrations at all but a visual component of the words, and she worked on billboard projects for luxury brands and covers for magazines such as Vogue.

Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Simultaneous dress, front back Paris, 1913.

Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Simultaneous dress, front back Paris, 1913.

 

Detail of Sonia's simultaneous dress.

Detail of Sonia’s simultaneous dress.

 

Her evenings were spent at the Bal Bullier ballroom, as a tango craze swept Paris. She sketched the dancers, creating paintings whirling with energy and for this she sewed her own “Simultaneous Dress”, an unhappily ungainly patchwork affair. Under the new electric lighting that she so celebrated in her paintings and surrounded with other artist and poets it may have looked modern and exciting though. She wished to be in dialogue with the dancers, but I hope that they were more graceful than her outfit.

Next up – Sonia Delaunay Part 2 – Fashion and influence

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