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Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern in London

Federico Tibytt

Until August 9, 2015, the London Gallery presents a retrospective of Sonia Delaunay, a passionate woman and avant-garde artist who transcended languages, styles, disciplines, and borders.



Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) is one of the most influential figures in the visual arts, fashion design and decorative arts of the 20th century. Her avant-garde esthetics transcended languages, styles, disciplines and borders. Delaunay was the first woman honored with a retrospective of her oeuvre—while she was still alive—at Paris’ Louvre Museum, in 1964.

Sonia Delaunay
Sonia Delaunay. Propeller (Air Pavilion), 1937. Skissernas Museum, Lund, Sweden. © Pracusa 2014083. Photo: Emma Krantz

To celebrate the genius of this Ukrainian artist, London’s Tate Modern has organized a retrospective exhibition on view until August 9, 2015, focusing on her prolific production during more than six decades.

Born Sara Elievna Stern, in Odessa, Ukraine, at an early age she was sent to St. Petersburg, Russia, to live with her maternal uncle. Under harsh economic distress, her parents couldn't provide the girl with a proper upbringing at home. She received an excellent education under the tutelage of her adoptive family, and her uncle instilled in her the passion for the visual arts. Over time, the girl—who adopted her mother´s maiden name to become Sonia Terk—would consider herself a Russian artist.

In 1906, she settled in Paris, where she joined the intellectual, artistic circles, fraternizing with the likes of Braque, Picasso, Derain, and Vlaminck. Her paintings from that time show an apparent preference for the German expressionists and painters like Van Gogh and Gauguin. Her chief supporter was the collector, dealer and art critic Wilhelm Uhde, whom she conveniently married, in 1909, to obtain legal residence in France. Uhde curated Sonia´s first solo exhibition in his gallery, the same place where she would later meet Robert Delaunay—her future husband—one of the pioneers of abstract art.

Sonia Delaunay
(L) Sonia Delaunay. Electric Prisms, 1914. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris (RMN). © Pracusa 2014083.
(R) Sonia Delaunay. Simultaneous Dresses (The three women), 1925. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. © Pracusa 2014083.

In 1910, Sonia divorced her first husband to marry Delaunay. Together they created one of the most influential abstract art movements of the early 20th century, called Simultanism. Sonia Delaunay always considered the hand-sewn quilt she made for her son Charles, in 1911, as the first work of this avant-garde style. More about art and culture.

The movement, driven by the couple, claimed color was the expressive paradigm that stops the communicative limitations of the form in favor of contrasting and complementary chromatic expressions. The simultaneous coexistence of sensations created by colors was the fundamental precept of the Delaunays particular styles, which later influenced the poetics of Orphism.

Sonia Delaunay
Sonia Delaunay and two friends in Robert Delaunay’s studio, rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris 1924. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris.

The artist developed her vision—over decades—not only in painting, but also in fashion and custom design, interior and set decoration, magazines covers, and pictorial representations of abstract poems by Blaise Cendrars, among other authors.

Between 1915 and 1930, the couple lived in Spain, Portugal, and France. In these countries, Sonia opened shops and ateliers such as Casa Sonia in Madrid (1918), and her boutique at Paris’ Boulevard Malesherbes. Her artistic establishments received great enthusiasm and praise from the aristocracy of Europe's major capitals.

Undoubtedly, Sonia Delaunay was a passionate woman who knew how to interpret and incorporate the most revolutionary cultural ideas into all her creations. Her overwhelming personality, revealed in her work, is elucidated with exquisite precision in this exhibit at Tate Modern.

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