Just by chance the other day, via surfing Pinterest, I came across a fascinating woman by the name of Sonia Delaunay. I hadn’t heard about her before, and the thing that caught my eye on Pinterest was a photo of her juxtaposed against some strongly coloured, geometric shapes. Then, I realised that I had come across the name Delaunay before, but that of Sonia’s husband Robert. A little research revealed that Robert and his wife Sonia had developed an offshoot of Cubism called “Orphism”, which was the transitional link between Cubism and Abstract Art.
Here is Wikipedia’s entry for “Orphism”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphism_(art)
What attracted me to Sonia Delaunay was the fact that not only was she an artist in the highest regard, she was also a Textile Designer and Surface Pattern Designer whose works crossed over from the realm of Art into furniture, furnishings, fabric and even fashion. I’m very keen on patterns myself, if you’ve been following my blog, and that one image of Sonia with bold, colourful geometric shapes on the wall behind her, piqued my interest further.
(Image courtesy of Google Images)
Here then was another inspiring woman artist, and I do love them, so I thought I would write about her here, as her back story is a fascinating and compelling one.
Sonia Delaunay (November 14, 1885 – December 5, 1979) was a Jewish-French artist born in Gradizhsk, then in the Russian Empire, today in Poltava Oblast inUkraine. At a young age, she was given into the care of her mother’s brother Henri Terk, an affluent lawyer and his wife Anna in St Petersburg, and formally adopted by the Terks in 1890. After a privileged upbringing, she moved to Paris, France in 1905 to study Art. However, being disillusioned with the way Art was taught at the school she enrolled in, Sonia spent most of her time trawling art galleries for inspiration. Her early style resembled the post-impressionist art of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Henri Rousseau and the fauves including Henri Matisse and Derain.
In her first year in Paris, Sonia met German art gallery owner Wilhelm Uhde, and they married in 1908. Uhde was a homosexual, and it was a marriage of convenience…Sonia’s adoptive parents disapproved of her becoming an artist and demanded for her return to Russia. For Uhde, marriage to Sonia provided a respectable cover for his homosexuality. Through Uhde, Sonia Delaunay gained entrance into the art world, and she also benefited from his many connections as a gallery owner.
In 1909, however, Sonia met Robert Delaunay and by April that year they were lovers. Sonia and Wilhelm Uhde divorced in 1910, leaving her free to marry Robert. Their son Charles was born in January 1911. Of Robert, Sonia said “In Robert Delaunay I found a poet. A poet who wrote not with words but with colours”. The Delaunays were supported financially by funds sent from Sonia’s aunt in St Petersburg.
Sonia called her artistic style “simultanéisme”, or Simultaneous Design. In 1912, Sonia met the poet Blaise Cendrars, who became her friend and collaborator, and she subsequently illustrated Cendrars’ poem La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Jehanne of France) about a journey on theTrans-Siberian Railway, by creating a 2m-long accordion-pleated book. Using simultaneous design principles the book merged text and design. The book, which was sold almost entirely by subscription, created a stir amongst Paris critics.
(I must say seeing this book has quite inspired me to try my hand once again at creating handmade books, but this time perhaps incorporating my own mobile photography artwork?) Have a look yourself at the sheer genius of Sonia’s accordion book here, isn’t it wonderful?
While visiting Spain in 1914, the Delaunays were caught by the outbreak of the First World War, and decided to stay in Spain and Portugal. They only returned to France in 1921. The Russian Revolution also caused their funds from St Petersburg to dry up, and as a new source of income was required, Sonia found work designing clothes for Sergei Diaghilev in Madrid. She designed costumes for his production of Cleopatra (stage design by Robert Delaunay) and for the performance of Aida in Barcelona. In Madrid she decorated the Petit Casino (a nightclub) and founded Casa Sonia, selling her designs for interior decoration and fashion, with a branch in Bilbao. Still in her early 30s, Sonia was fast becoming the darling of the fashion and interior decoration world.
Back in France from 1921, Sonia threw herself into creating clothes for clients, with her signature of bright, bold colours and geometrical shapes. She also created and designed sets for theatre and film. Robert Delaunay died of cancer in 1941. Sonia was a toasted and celebrated artist well through her late years. She passed away in 1979, aged 94, and is buried beside her husband Robert Delaunay in Gambais, near Paris.
Here are some images of Sonia Delaunay’s work, taken from Google Images. I have chosen these images to represent her work in Fashion and Furnishings, as well as Art.