Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979)

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    Biography

    Best known for her experimentation with colour theory, Sonia Delaunay's paintings of overlapping and intersecting planes of colour explore how tonal relationships might be used to create the illusion of depth and movement. Along with her husband and fellow artist, Robert Delaunay, she coined the term Simultanism around 1910 to describe these abstract works. The art critic Apollinaire alternatively used the term Orphism in reference to their coloured canvases in order to distinguish them from cubist works. Delaunay's compositions took inspiration from technology and urban life and relied heavily on geometric forms to convey the zeitgeist of twentieth-century modernity.

    Born into a Jewish family in Ukraine in 1885, Sonia Delaunay spent her childhood living with her uncle in St. Petersburg. Early on in school a teacher noticed her drawing skills and, following his suggestion, she was sent to the Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe, Germany. Delaunay then moved to Paris, where she would spend the rest of her working life, and enrolled in the Académie de La Palette in Montparnasse. Surrounded by the stimulus of German Expressionists, Fauves and Post-Impressionists, including Gauguin and Van Gogh, Delaunay was driven to begin experimenting with colour which she described as "the skin of the world".

    Throughout her life, Delaunay developed a fascination with colour and design through a number of creative outlets, including costume and interior design as well as illustration, but increasingly returned to painting following the death of her husband in 1941. Delaunay received great international recognition and became the first living female artist to exhibit at the Louvre in 1964. She was later awarded the French Legion of Honour in 1975.

    Since her death in 1979, Sonia Delaunay has been the subject of major retrospectives around the world including a recent exhibition at Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris which holds 114 of her and her husband's works, and at the Tate Modern in 2015, which was the first of its kind in the UK. Delaunay's works are held in several collections including that of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.