Sonia Delaunay French, 1885-1979


Sonia Stern Terk Delaunay was born on November 14, 1885 in the village of Gradizhsk in the Ukraine, a region in the western part of the former Soviet Union. She was the youngest of three children and at the age of five was sent to St. Petersburg to live with her uncle Henry Terk, who was a successful and affluent Jewish lawyer. Sonia learned to speak German, French, and English from her three governesses and traveled widely in Europe especially to art galleries and museums. When she was 14, the artist Max Lieberman, who was a friend of her uncle, gave her some paints and brushes. At school she took classes in drawing. After two years studying drawing at the Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe, Sonia moved to Paris in 1905 to live in the Latin Quarter with four Russian friends and to enroll at the Academie de la Palette in Montparnasse. While in Paris, Sonia was exposed to the work of such Post Impressionists as Van Gogh and Gauguin as well as the work of the ground-breaking Fauvists including Henri Matisse and André Derain whose striking and vivid color palettes influenced the young artist to begin painting in brilliant colors of red, yellow, blue, and green.


A marriage of presumed convenience to the homosexual art gallery owner Wilhelm Uhde who helped arrange her first show in 1908 ended when she met Robert Delaunay in 1909 and became pregnant with her son Charles who was born in 1911. Beginning in 1911 Sonia and her husband Robert began experimenting with color and design principles in art simultaneously, a movement called "Orphism" by the art critic Guillaume Apollinaire and which the Delaunays referred to as "Simultaneous Contrasts". In 1917 Sonia began designing sets and costumes for plays, operas such as "Aida", and for ballets such as "Cleopatra". She also designed colorful fabrics, clothing, carpets, and tapestries that revolutionized the art of fabric design. In 1924 she opened a fashion studio with Jacques Heim and collaborated on designs with the likes of Coco Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin. Sonia would not exhibit her work again until 1953, twelve years after her husband died, even though she continued to paint and to work in other mediums such as collage, bookbinding, book illustration, textiles, as well as costume and theatre design during these decades. After the end of World War II she was instrumental in the founding of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, where abstract paintings from all over the world could be exhibited. Sonia Delaunay was the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre in 1964. She died in Paris in 1979 at the age of 94.


Officer of the French Legion of Honor, 1975


Wilhelm Uhde Gallery, 1908

Herbstsalon, Berlin, 1913

Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris, 1925

Paris World's Fair Exhibition, 1937 (gold medal)

Bing Gallery, 1953

Louvre, Paris, 1964 (retrospective)

Museums and Public Collections

Art Collection of the Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, Colombia

Art Institute of Chicago

Calderara Foundation Collection, Milan, Italy

Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio

Haifa Museum, Haifa, Israel 

Harvard University Art Museums, Massachusetts   

Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Museum of Modern Art, New York City

National Museum of Women in the Arts

Reina Sofía National Museum, Madrid 

Tampa Museum of Art, Florida

Tate Gallery, London, UK

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid 

Villa Crove Museo di Arte Contemporanea, Genoa, Italy

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