Not one to stand in her husband’s shadows, Jewish-French artist Sonia Delaunay (November 14, 1885 – December 5, 1979) made her name not only in painting but costume design for the theater, textiles and products. Along wIth her more famous artist husband Robert Delaunay, she cofounded the Orphism art movement, noted for its use of strong colours and geometric shapes. The Louvre chose her as the first female artist ever for a solo retrospective exhibition in 1964. She was even named as an officer of the French Foreign Legion in 1975. Talk about multi-tasking!(Rhythme, 1938)
Know for her astute use of color, she helped pioneer the early Modernist movement. This profusion of hues was influenced by memories of her youth. Sonia often recalled the “colors from my childhood from the Ukraine. Memories of peasant weddings in my country in which the red and green dresses decorated with many ribbons billowed in dance. Memories of an album of folk costumes brought from Sweden by my uncle.”
(A collection of textile designs for bathing suits. She was also well-known for her theatrical work and produced numerous costumes for The Ballets Russe, including their interpretation of Cleopatra, a Spanish production of Aida, Les Quatres Saisons, and a few films.)
Indeed, Sonia Delaunay was not like other companions of similar artists of her period. And she worked diligently to get her work noticed. Unfortunatley for decades, Sonia Delaunay was best known as the wife of Robert Delaunay. Years before the feminist wave hit, it was always his work that was mentioned by art historians, featured in the history books. or shown in retrospective featured exhibitions.
Delaunay discovered textile and fashion as way of survival following the Russian Revolution. With her family fortune gone, she turned to designing fabrics, tapestries and carpets. A natural talent, her success brouht her collaborations with notables such as Coco Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin. Now she is recognized as one of the prominent artists of her day. In both 2009 and 2010, the French museum Tate Modern featured her works from 1912 and 1913 in their Futurism exhibit and in an installation celebrating women artists.
(Bangle set and scarf featuring Sonia’s designs from the Metropolitan Museum of Art gift store.)
Following the Great Depression, Sonia’s commercial success faded and she picked up her first love, painting. She even collaborated with her husband to create several murals for the Paris World’s Fair of 1937. Although her husband passed away back in 1941, Sonia enjoyed a full life of art and sucess until the age of 94. When she died, a retrospective of her work was touring the United States.