Russian (active in France)

Sonia Delaunay was born in the Ukraine. Orphaned at a young age, she was raised by her maternal uncle, Henri Terk. She went to Paris in 1905 where she met and married Wilhelm Uhde, a gallery owner who showed work by the Fauves, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin. The intense color in these works struck her. Light and color became important elements in her own work. She said, "The breaking up of objects and forms by light, and the birth of color planes, bring a new structure to the painting," and, "In the sky, we have found the emotive principle of all art: light, the movement of color."* Her marriage to Uhde did not last, and in 1910 she married Robert Delaunay. They shared a passion for abstract art. Of their shared enthusiasm Guillaume Apollinaire commented, "When the Delaunays wake up they talk painting."** At the time, Cubism was shocking the art world. The Delaunays met Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque.

When World War I broke out, Sonia and Robert went to Spain, and Sonia took up pottery and later interior design and fashion. The pair returned to Paris in 1921. Sonia's passion for fashion continued. She designed scarves, fabric, and tapestry. The bold colors and geometric designs from her paintings also appeared in her clothing designs. She had a clear aesthetic that transcended media. When composing a piece, she thought about the relationships between different planes of color. Sonia and Robert studied Chevreul's color theory, particularly "simultaneous contrast" and hot and cold colors. The relationships among colors in Sonia's work have an affect on viewers. She said, "Insofar as these color relations allow the physical action of colors to agitate anticipated responses in the viewer, color compositions arranged in gentle complementaries have a calming effect, while colors agitated by hot and cold dissonances provoke a stimulating response."*** The visual rhythm that she created shares an affinity with the linguistic rhythm of poetry. Despite her interest in the relationships among colors and the effects of their combinations, she did not like the calculated compositions meant to manipulate the eye, such as those by Victor Vasarely: "I’m entirely against the commercialism of Vasarely, which is disastrous for painting, distorts people’s vision, and is cold and mechanical. It’s anti-painting. It’s a sort of limitless vanity, and a real artist is always modest."****

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Sonia turned her attention back to painting. After Robert died in 1941, she struggled to get his art the recognition that she felt it deserved. She continued to paint and work in a variety of media (tapestry, ballet sets and costumes, rugs) for the rest of her career.

*"Delaunay-Terk, Sonia" Benezit Dictionary of Artists, Oxford Art Online
**Sonia Delaunay, "Sonia Delaunay (1967)," in The New Art of Color: The Writings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, ed. Arthur A. Cohen,  trans. David Shapiro and Arthur A. Cohen (New York: Viking Press, 1978), 194. The essay was first published in the catalogue for her retrospective at the Musée National d'art Moderne in Paris, 1967-68.
***Letter from Sonia Delaunay dated June 2, 1926, reproduced in The New Art of Color, 202-203.
****“Interview with Arthur A. Cohen at Sonia’s home in Paris on July 22, 1970,” in The New Art of Color, 225.

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