Sonia Ilinitchna Stern was born in Ukraine to a modest Jewish family. As a child, she went to live in St Petersburg with her uncle Henri Terk, whose surname she adopted. There she studied drawing and painting with Schmidt-Reutter at the School of Fine Arts of the University of Karlsruhe. In 1905 she moved to Paris and enrolled at the Cubist academy, La Palette.
Following a brief marriage to the German art dealer Wilhelm Uhde, she married Robert Delaunay in 1910. The two of them engaged in parallel research into color. Sonia Delaunay was interested in Rosseau, Cézanne and the Cubists, but above all, in pure color; her Fauvist portraits are reminiscent of Gauguin, Van Gogh and Matisse. During her career she also used avant-garde forms in the creation of everyday objects, graphic design and theater.
The name of the Delaunays also became associated with Simultaneism or Orphism, a movement related to Cubism and Futurism though with its own characteristics: it put into practice the theories of color that had developed since impressionism, with a particular emphasis on the study of light. Their research led to the creation of pioneering abstract images that advocated conceptual purity. Their work during those years saw a preponderance of dynamic circular shapes and chromatic harmonies based on the simultaneous presence of complementary colors.
The outbreak of the First World War found the Delaunays in Spain. They opened an interior design and modern clothing store for high society in Madrid and made contact with Ramón Gómez de la Serna and Guillermo de Torre, as well as other refugees such as Francis Picabia. In Barcelona they collaborated with Sergei Diaghilev.
Back in Paris in 1921, their house became an avant-garde meeting place. Sonia Delaunay continued to apply her studies on light and color to textiles and fashion. The outfits and accessories that emerged from her Atelier Simultané had a tremendous influence on Parisian fashion in the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1930, the artist threw herself into painting and joined the Abstraction-Creation group. During those years, she and her husband took part in public works such as the Railway Pavilion and the Air Pavilion at the International Exposition of Art and Technology in Paris in 1937.
After 1940, Delaunay’s style became more delicate and simple in her color experiments on gouaches. On the death of her husband in 1941, she continued her painting and design work, and her fame grew steadily. In 1964, the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris received a donation of 58 of her works, which were displayed at the Louvre; she was the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition there.
Noemi de Haro