DELAUNAY Sonia Terk
French painter, born in the Ukraine, 1886. She was brought up in her uncle's house in St Petersburg. She was attracted by mathematics but chose painting. On the insistence of her drawing teacher (who was also an ethnographer), she obtained her parents' permission to go to study in Germany, where she stayed for two years, at Karlsruhe. Then she went to Paris and enrolled at the Academic de la Palette, which was frequented by Ozenfant, and by Segonzac and his friends. Under the influence of the work of Gauguin and Van Gogh, she sought a means of liberation and expression in the intensification of colour (Philomena, the Seamstress, and the portraits of little girls she painted in Finland). She made the acquaintance of Wilhelm Uhde, who was on the side of the Fauvist painters (then in their Cézannian period), and exhibited in his gallery. Cubism was soon to begin. She met Robert Delaunay, whose taste for poetry and pictorial ideas she shared, and married him in 1910. Swept along by his dynamism, Sonia elaborated a personal mode of expression, which summarizes her experience with Cubism and Orphism, and used it in designing bookbindings, cushions, rugs and collages made of violently coloured paper and cloth. She covered her walls with abstract compositions, and made herself dresses of 'simultaneous colours'. On the same principle she created pictures which are orchestrations of colours with no representational purpose, which suggest movement and emotion merely by their combinations. In 1913, at the Herbstsalon in Berlin, together with Robert Delaunay, she exhibited some twenty objects and pictures, and the first 'simultaneous book', created to illustrate Blaise Cendrars's poem, La Prose du Trans-Sibérien et de la petite Jebanne de France. In 1915 the vivid light of Spain awoke in Sonia Delaunay coloured memories of her native village. In Portugal the beauty of the country and of the national costumes inspired some brilliant compositions ( Market at Minbo) and encouraged her to widen her field of decorative activities. In Madrid, inspired by the Spanish dances, she painted some abstract water-colours in which she studied the relationship of colours in their reciprocal action. She met Diaghilev, who commissioned her to design costumes for the ballet Cléopâtre. Robert Delaunay painted the decor. On her return to France in 1920 she decided to apply her ideas to fashion. She revolutionized the art of fabric design, replacing traditional patterns by geometrical motifs, combinations of coloured planes, and scales of tones with exciting contrasts of rhythmic variations. Her fabrics were reproduced and adopted by the leading couturiers, and exerted a great influence over many aspects of our life (the theatre, the cinema). This occupied so much of her time and energy, that Sonia was obliged, in the end, to give up her commercial obligations in order to be able to devote herself to painting. The practical application of her ideas shows their importance and, particularly, their architectural value. Sonia Delaunay's discoveries were shown at their best in the vast compositions in the Hall of the Air and the Hall of Railroads at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937. After their flight before the invading Germans in 1940, and the illness and death of Robert Delaunay in 1941, a new period opened for Sonia, a period of meditation and research. In 1941, in Grasse, in the south of France, where she met Sophie Tacuber-Arp and Magnelli, she painted a series of harmonious and subtle gouaches. After the war she helped to found the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles (an idea put forward by Robert Delaunay in 1930), where, for the first time, abstract paintings from all over the world could be seen together. In 1953 an important retrospective exhibition of her work, held at the Bing Gallery, showed the evolution of an art which, for all its ascetism, has never sacrificed richness or intensity.