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.
In 1964 Sonia Delaunay was the first living female artist to have a retrospective at the Louvre. Since then she has had numerous important museum exhibitions and looms as one of the great figures within the development of 20th century painting. Rythme was painted in 1949, dating it past Delaunay's early avant-garde years. In the decade between 1910-1920, she constructed her important Simultaneous Contrast theories, as well as the color theories that would serve as the basis for Orphism. Some of Delaunay's highest-priced works were executed during this early time frame, though her work was still considered avant-garde in the late 1940s.
In Rythme there is a raucously playful and exuberant color configuration that plays in a graphic and almost sculptural way. It would be interesting to know if the sculptures and work of Jean Arp had an influence on her organic form, as seen here. It is clear that she had a life long study and interest in simply how colors operate next to each other. And in a work such as this we feel her outgrowth from her early days of being in Paris and experiencing Fauvism, Cubism and works by artists such as Henri Matisse. Sonia was an integral part of the artistic fabric that was so vibrant in the first half of the twentieth century in Europe. Her color palette was further inspired by the brilliant national costumes she encountered on trips to Portugal and to Spain with her husband Robert Delaunay as well as the memories of peasant weddings in her native Ukraine. Rythme addresses the depiction of light, color, and movement through the contrast of these same color combinations that project a feeling of gaiety. They are by their nature decorative in content and as such Sonia became a pivotal figure in the Art Deco and Parisian Avant-garde movements.
As with all of Sonia's works, whether they were oils or works on paper, she was not interested in creating a careful or pristine surface. This work has areas of thinness and unevenness but this is characteristic of any work by her. Most of her works look as though they are started and then abandoned. Many start out well thought out and then as the thought was finished in her head, her hand trailed and left unfinished passages on the paper. Once finished she was probably not careful with where the works sat or how they were stored. This is a testament to her pure artistic focus as opposed to a commercial concern for what a "buyer" of her work would want.
This work came from a private collection that had many other works by Sonia and her husband Robert. This collector bought them all from the estate of the artist and seemed to have a keen interest in the artist's work.
Estate of the artist
Private Collection, Barcelona
Private Collection, Armonk, New York, acquired from the ahove