Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Meet the Delaunays

The Delaunays - Robert and Sonia - were a married artist couple. Artists marrying other artists is not too unusual. What makes the Delaunays unusual was that while their individual work is quite distinctive, it is also compatible for exhibiting together. As a matter of fact, as I write this, the Delaunays' art is on exhibit in Japan - some 30 years after the last partner's death!

Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) was senior to Sonia by six months, so we'll look at his background first. Born in Paris, Robert studied art and began exhibiting at the tender age of 19. His influences were: Paul Cézanne and later Vasily Kandinsky.

Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) was born in the Ukraine and studied art in Germany. She disliked the strictures of art school and left for Paris where she was influenced by the art of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Rousseau.

Robert and Sonia met in 1908. Sonia said of Robert, "In Robert Delaunay I found a poet. A poet who wrote not with words but with colours." They married and had a son, Charles.
Sonia made a quilt for Charles that is now in the collection at Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris. This patchwork quilt would be the turning point of Sonia's art.

As Sonia moved towards cubism, Robert was studying color theory. Together, the Delaunays founded an art movement known as "orphism" which combined purely abstract shapes with bright colors.

All the while the Delaunay family was supported by Sonia's allowance from her family in Russia. WWI forced the family to leave Paris for Spain. During this same time, the onset of the Russian Revolution meant the end of Sonia's allowance. To generate income, Robert designed stage sets and Sonia designed costumes for the opera until the end of WWI at which time the family returned to Paris. The Delaunays continued to paint, design and collaborate until 1941 when Robert succumbed to cancer.

Sonia carried on designing fabrics, clothes and costumes. She also spent a good deal of her energy and money on retrospectives of Robert's art. In time, she passed through the sadness of loss. She spent the last part of her life painting and re-establishing her own artistic and design contributions. (Below left are Robert's paintings and on the right are Sonia's geometric textile designs.)



  1. Wonderful art. They were most gifted. I can definitely see the collaboration. LJ

  2. Of course I like the "quilty" designs. Interesting that they collaborated, yet after his death she had to re-establish her own work. Once again the woman gives up some of her own talents in order to collaborate. But perhaps he did the same? sz

  3. Thanks R, more new stuff to think about. I do like their work................. C