Saturday, December 01, 2018

Sonia Delaunay spent two years working on three large murals for the 1937 Paris International Exhibition of Arts and Technology in Modern Life

'Hommage à Blériot' or 'Aircraft Engine' or 'Propeller'

Instrument panel


It took a long, long time for Sonia Delaunay, who died in 1979, to be granted her first retrospective in the UK, and it’s something of a travesty that it wasn’t until 2015 when the Tate Modern, London, finally did what no one else had the guts to do, and created an ode to the great artists work.

Born Sarah Ilinitchna Stern to a poor Jewish family in Odessa, she was adopted by a rich uncle, renamed herself Sonia Terk and was educated all over Europe.

Her uncle provided her with an excellent education: she traveled extensively in Western Europe, visited all the greatest museums and galleries of the Old World, and was fluent in French, German and English. The girl studied academic drawing and painting, her abilities were revealed at an early age. Upon reaching her eighteenth birthday, Sonia went to the Karlsruhe Academy of Art in Germany.

At the age of 20, in 1905, she arrived in Paris and entered the famous Académie de la Palette, the alma mater of a great number of outstanding artists of the first half of the 20th century. Here Turk studied engraving under the guidance of Rudolf Grossman. Like almost all of her fellow students, she was not in awe of academic teaching and the conservative atmosphere that reigned in schools. She was fascinated by the Fauves, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Rousseau, repulsed by Matisse and Picasso: she considered the first to be “too cautious, too bourgeois,” the second she found unhealthy. The influence of the Fauvists is especially noticeable in her early paintings, such as The Finnish Woman and The Yellow Nude (1908) with their unnatural complexion, sweeping strokes and generous colors.

In Germany she studied alongside Schoenberg; in Paris she met Braque and Picasso, and the gallerist Wilhelm Uhde who showed the works of Gauguin, Derain and the faves. A year later, in London, Turk and Uda were married, but the union did not last long. According to Sonia's memoirs, this was a fake marriage, convenient for both of them: Ude was homosexual, and Sonia was under pressure from relatives who demanded that she find a husband or rather return to St. Petersburg.

It is noteworthy that it was through Uda that she met her future husband and avant-garde artist from aristocratic circles, Robert Delaunay. In August 1910, Sonia divorced Uda, in November she married Delaunay and took his last name. Soon their first child, Charles, was born. In the future, he will become a famous jazz critic, author of the first jazz discography and founder of the Hot Club de France.

One of the most influential artists on her was her 2nd husband, with whom she invented Orphism, that cubism of colors. But Sonia left the fine arts and also applied this current in other disciplines such as fashion design, books, fabrics ... even cars ... one of the first artists to really understand the twentieth century.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the invigorating color paintings of Sonia Delaunay have never been given the real credit they deserve is because she was overshadowed by the success of her 2nd husband, whose theories and paintings cast a spell over the prominent artists of the day, including Paul Klee and Kandinsky. Delaunay, a woman, was pushed into the background, just like her female contemporaries. But that isn’t to say that she didn’t trail a blaze across the art world – she did.

Her style changed radically in the early 1910s when she turned to abstraction with her 2nd husband and they invented the "simultaneity", which plays on contrasts and color dynamics. Already, Delaunay was not content to apply it to painting, she experimented on different media: she created a patchwork cradle blanket of contrasting colors, decorated a toy box, made book covers, and advertising posters.

When World War I broke out, the couple were forced to leave Paris and moved to Spain. In August 1915 they moved to Portugal and for some time lived with artists Samuel Halpert and Eduardo Viana.

After the October Revolution, Sonia lost her uncles sponsorship and the couple was on the verge of poverty, but in 1918, they received an order from the "great impresario" Sergey Dyagilev, who toured with his "Russian ballets" in Spain. She created sketches of costumes for the production of "Cleopatra" to the music of A. Arensky (Robert worked on the scenery). The premiere was a success and contributed to the appearance of many customers at the Delaunay gallery.

She opened Casa Sonia boutiques in Madrid and Bilbao in 1918, selling spectacular two-color coats, embroidered shoes, striped ballgowns that fizzed like op-art paintings long before their time (think Vivienne Westwood in the King’s Road in the 80s). She decorated nightclubs, designed bee-striped umbrellas and knitted swimming costumes that were as impractical as they were modish. She was a color-blocker long before anyone else. She worked for Zenith Watches and Le Rêve gas stoves, designed fabric for Metz and Co in Amsterdam and Liberty in London.

Always abstract and always daring to do something different to her contemporaries, Delaunay found a niche early on, and painted highly stylised shapes – often discs – that meshed together like whirlpools, spewing color back and forth in a controlled setting. Privy to all the latest color theories that were abounding at the time, Delaunay was able to breathlessly merge together complimentary colors and contrasting shapes to create paintings that are intense and stunning.

From 1944 to 1945 she lived in Toulouse with Uda and Tzara, was engaged in painting and worked on interior design projects for the headquarters of the International Red Cross.

for the most complete biographies of her

A photo of the exhibit hall in the 1937 Paris International Exhibition of Arts and Technology in Modern Life, and below, Delaunay's painting of the hall, with some other art pieces in the bottom left that may be representative of other people's art, or, her own... but quite astonishingly, are not the ones you see in the photo above, which are two of the 3 large murals she made, which I have at the top of this post, Engine and Instrument Panel

1 comment:

  1. Great post Jesse! Spent the last two hours researching Ms. Delaunay. What a fascinating artist. Great style and taste. Thanks for the art lesson. Brad