Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay was a Jewish-French artist who, with her husband Robert Delaunay and others, cofounded the Orphism art movement, noted for its use of strong colours and geometric shapes. Her work extends to painting, textile design and stage set design.

Born Sarah Ilinitchna Stern, Sonia was born in Gradizhsk, former Russian Empire, today Ukraine. At a young age she moved to St. Petersburg, where she was cared for by her uncle. She received a privileged upbringing, spending the summers in Finland and traveled widely in Europe introducing Sonia to art museums and galleries. At 16 her skill at drawing was noted by her teacher. When she was 18, she went to an art school in Germany. She studied in Germany until 1905 when she decided to move on to Paris.

In Paris, she enrolled at the Académie de La Palette in Montparnasse, but spent less time at the Académie and more time in galleries around Paris. Her work during this period was strongly influenced by the art she was viewing including the post-impressionist art of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Henri Rousseau and the fauves including Henri Matisse and Derain. During her first year in Paris she met, and married, German homosexual art gallery owner Wilhelm Uhde. Little is known about their union, but it is assumed to have been a marriage of convenience to escape the demands of her parents to come back to Russia. With Uhde, Sonia gained entrance into the art world.

She met Robert Delaunay in early 1909. They soon became lovers and it was decided that she and Uhde should divorce. Sonia was pregnant and she and Robert married the following year. In 1911, Sonia Delaunay made a patchwork quilt for her son, which is now in the collection of the Modern Art Museum in Paris. This quilt was created spontaneously and uses geometry and color. When it was finished, the arrangement of the pieces of material seemed to me to evoke cubist conceptions and we then tried to apply the same process to other objects and paintings. Contemporary art critics recognize this as the point where she moved away from perspective and naturalism in her art. Poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire, Delaunays' friend, coined the term Orphism to describe their version of cubism in 1913. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Sonia and Robert where in Spain. They decided not to return to France but instead, moved to Portugal.

The Russian Revolution brought an end to the financial support Sonia received, she had to find another source of income. Sonia designed costumes for Sergei Diaghilev, she decorated the Petit Casino in Madrid and founded Casa Sonia, selling her designs for interior decoration and fashion, with a branch in Bilbao. The Family returned to Paris permanently in 1921. Sonia Delaunay made clothes for private clients and friends, and started her own business with a registered trademark. In 1924 she opened a fashion studio together with Jacques Heim, they had a pavilion at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes.

The Great Depression caused the closing of her business, Sonia returned to painting. By the end of 1934 she was working on designs for the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, for which she and Robert worked together on decorating two pavilions. Robert Delaunay died of cancer in October 1941. After the second world war, Sonia was a board member of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles for several years. In 1975 Sonia was named an officer of the French Legion of Honor. From 1976 she developed a range of textiles, tableware and jewellery with French company Artcurial, inspired by her work from the 1920s. Sonia Delaunay died in 1979, aged 94.

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