Exhibition: ‘The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 15th April – 9th August 2015

Curators: curated at Tate Modern by Juliet Bingham, Curator International Art, with Juliette Rizzi, Assistant Curator.



Sonia Delaunay exhibition at Tate Modern


The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern



One of my favourite female artists of all time. Up there with Georgia O’Keeffe, Lee Krasner, Agnes Martin and Louise Bourgeois.

The early portrait paintings are a revelation. And then, how avant-garde her Electric Prisms paintings, fashion designs, theatre costumes, embroidering poetry onto fabric, turning her apartment into a three-dimensional collage… the very epitome of a “progressive woman synonymous with modernity.”

I have always loved her creativity, vibrancy, colours and asymmetric, musical rhythm – her photogeneity, in the sense of her works producing or emitting light, like an organism does. They seem to grab you, like a jolt of electricity, saying “Wake up!” and “Look at me!”

Perhaps I’m a little bit in love with this very wonderful women.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to the Tate Modern for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



“In this case, the pram in the hall was not the enemy of promise. (In any case, surely poverty is the more likely candidate.) It is still rare, however, for a cradle cover to be given gallery space and acknowledged as an important artwork. The little blanket Sonia stitched for her son, Charles, in 1911 [see image below] is to be exhibited, and it seems to have been a breakthrough piece which moved her from figurative work to abstract. The coverlet is a patchwork medley of pinks, creams and greens with hints of maroon and black. It shows how Sonia melded Russian folk-craft with Parisian avant garde, and anticipated the experiments with colour and shape that would become the Delaunay hallmark style, simultané.

As well as the baby quilt, there is on display the child’s painted toy box, and the outfit Sonia made in the same manner, the one in the photograph mentioned above: by 1913 the Delaunays had found a babysitter and were setting off to the dancehall, the Bal Bullier. As well as making clothing for herself and her friends, Sonia still painted. Next to the dress, which is composed of swatches of fabric in different textures, is her large canvas ‘Bal Bullier’. A flow of colour and rhythm, it shows several couples (or one couple twirling) under a new Parisian sensation: coloured electric lights.”

Kathleen Jamie. “Sonia Delaunay: the avant-garde queen of loud, wearable art,” on the Guardian website, Saturday 28 March 2015 [Online] Cited 03/08/2015



Sonia Delaunay. 'Quilt cover' 1911


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Quilt cover


Sonia Delaunay. 'Syncopated rhythm, so-called The Black Snake' 1967


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Syncopated rhythm, so-called The Black Snake
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France
© Pracusa 2014083


Sonia Delaunay. 'Propeller (Air Pavilion)' 1937


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Propeller (Air Pavilion)
Skissernas Museum, Lund, Sweden
© Pracusa 2014083
Photo: Emma Krantz


Sonia Delaunay. 'Propeller (Air Pavilion)' 1937 (detail)


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Propeller (Air Pavilion) (detail)
Skissernas Museum, Lund, Sweden
© Pracusa 2014083
Photo: Emma Krantz


Sonia Delaunay. 'Rhythm Colour no. 1076' 1939


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Rhythm Colour no. 1076
Centre National des Arts Plastiques/Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, on loan to Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille
© Pracusa 2014083


Sonia Delaunay. 'Court shoes' 1925


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Court shoes


Sonia Delaunay (right) and two friends in Robert Delaunay’s studio, rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris 1924


Unknown photographer
Sonia Delaunay (right) and two friends in Robert Delaunay’s studio, rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris
Image courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris



Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) was a key figure in the Parisian avant-garde, whose vivid and colourful work spanned painting, fashion and design. Tate Modern presents the first UK retrospective to assess the breadth of her vibrant artistic career, from her early figurative painting in the 1900s to her energetic abstract work in the 1960s. This exhibition offers a radical reassessment of Delaunay’s importance as an artist, showcasing her originality and creativity across the twentieth century.

Born in Odessaand trained in Germany, Sonia Delaunay (née Stern, then Terk) came to Parisin 1906 to join the emerging avant-garde. She met and married the artist Robert Delaunay, with whom she developed ‘Simultaneism’ – abstract compositions of dynamic contrasting colours and shapes. Many iconic examples of these works are brought together at Tate Modern, including Bal Bullier 1913 and Electric Prisms 1914. Her work expressed the energy of modern urban life, celebrating the birth of electric street lighting and the excitement of contemporary ballets and ballrooms.

The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay shows how the artist dedicated her life to experimenting with colour and abstraction, bringing her ideas off the canvas and into the world through tapestry, textiles, mosaic and fashion. Delaunay premiered her first ‘simultaneous dress’ of bright patchwork colours in 1913 and opened a boutique in Madrid in 1918. Her Atelier Simultané in Paris went on to produce radical and progressive designs for scarves, umbrellas, hats, shoes and swimming costumes throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Clients included the Hollywood star Gloria Swanson and the architect Erno Goldfinger, as well department stores like Metz & Co and Liberty. The exhibition reveals how Delaunay’s designs presented her as a progressive woman synonymous with modernity: embroidering poetry onto fabric, turning her apartment into a three-dimensional collage, and creating daring costumes for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

The diverse inspirations behind Delaunay’s work are also explored, from the highly personal approach to colour which harked back to her childhood in Russia, to the impact of her years in Spain and Portugal where she painted The Orange Seller 1915 and Flamenco Singers 1915-16. The show also reveals the inspiration provided by modern technology throughout Delaunay’s career, from the Trans-Siberian Railway to the aeroplane, and from the Eiffel Tower to the electric light bulb. It also includes her vast seven-metre murals Motor, Dashboard and Propeller, created for the 1937 International Exposition in Paris and never before shown in the UK.

Following her husband’s death in 1941, Sonia Delaunay’s work took on more formal freedom, including rhythmic compositions in angular forms and harlequin colours, which in turn inspired geometric tapestries, carpets and mosaics. Delaunay continued to experiment with abstraction in the post-war era, just as she had done since its birth in the 1910s, becoming a champion for a new generation of artists and an inspiring figure for creative practitioners to this day.

The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay is curated at Tate Modern by Juliet Bingham, Curator International Art, with Juliette Rizzi, Assistant Curator. It was organised by the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris-Musées and Tate Modern, and was realised with the exceptional help of Bibliothèque nationale de France and Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou.

Text from the Tate Modern website


Sonia Delaunay. 'Finnish woman' 1908


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Finnish woman


Sonia Delaunay. 'Yellow Nude' 1908


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Yellow Nude
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Nantes
© Pracusa 2014083


Sonia Delaunay. 'Sleeping girl' 1907


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Sleeping girl


Sonia Delaunay. 'Philomene' 1907


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)


Sonia Delaunay. 'Electric Prisms' 1913


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Electric Prisms
Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, Gift of Mr. Theodore Racoosin
© Pracusa


Sonia Delaunay. 'Electric Prisms' 1913-14


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Electric Prisms


Sonia Delaunay. 'Prismes electrique' 1914


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Prismes electrique
© Pracusa 2013057


Sonia Delaunay. 'Prismes electrique' (detail) 1914


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Prismes electrique (detail)
© Pracusa 2013057


Who is Sonia Delaunay?

Who is she?

Sonia Delaunay was a multi-disciplinary abstract artist and key figure in the Parisian avant-garde. Alongside her husband, Robert Delaunay, she pioneered the movement Simultanism. Her exploration of the interaction between colours has created a sense of depth and movement throughout her oeuvre.


What is her background?

She was born Sonia Illinitchna Stern to a Jewish Ukrainian family. At the age of seven she went to live with her comparatively wealthy uncle Henri Terk and his wife, Anna, in St Petersburg, Russia. The Terk’s offered her a privileged and cultured upbringing in St Petersburg. Nevertheless, her childhood memories of Ukraine remained with her and she often referred back to the ‘pure’ colour and bright costumes of the Ukrainian peasant weddings.


How did she start her career as an abstract artist?

“About 1911 I had the idea of making for my son, who had just been born, a blanket composed of bits of fabric like those I had seen in the houses of Russian peasants. When it was finished, the arrangement of the pieces of material seemed to me to evoke cubist conceptions and we then tried to apply the same process to other objects and paintings.”


What does she do?

“I always changed everything around me… I made my first white walls so our paintings would look better. I designed my furniture; I have done everything. I have lived my art.”

Delaunay’s creativity expanded beyond painting to include many other outlets such as Casa Sonia, an interiors and fashion boutique that she set up 1918; The entire set and costume design of Tristan Tzara’s 1923 play Le Cœur à Gaz; An illustration for the cover of Vogue in 1926; Costumes for the films Le Vertige directed by Marcel L’Herbier and Le p’tit Parigot, directed by René Le Somptier; Furniture for the set of the 1929 film Parce que je t’aime; And her textiles label Tissus Delaunay, which sold her designs worldwide.


What is Orphism?

Orphism is a term originating from 1912 when French poet and art critic Guillaume Appollinaire identified the new style of Cubist painting. Appollinaire was inspired by the work of František Kupka and the Delaunays, who, although channelling the Cubist vision, prioritised colour in their work. Appollinaire felt this use of colour brought movement, light and musical qualities to the artwork and therefore referenced the legendary poet and singer of ancient Greek mythology, Orpheus, when naming the movement.


What is Simultanism?

Simultanism is the strand of Orphism practised by the Delaunays. The name comes from the work of French scientist Michel Eugène Chevreul who identified the phenomenon of ‘simultaneous contrast’, in which colours look different depending on the colours around them. For example, a grey will look lighter on a dark background than it does on a light one. The Delaunays dispensed with form and aimed to created rhythm, motion and depth through overlapping patches of vibrant hues.


What are her key artworks?

Prismes électriques (Electric Prisms), 1914, displays Delaunay’s trademark concentric circles at their best. Interpreted as an ode to modernity, Delaunay refracts the lights and bustle of Boulevard Saint Michel into almost complete abstraction. Everything disintegrates into colour except two figures, which remain discernible in the lower centre of the piece.

Nu jaune, 1908, juxtaposes the models’ warm yellow skin against lashings of cool emerald. This is one of Delaunay’s most striking uses of tone. The bright colours are frequently offset by black marks. These create a bold and heavy outline which is primitivist in its intention. The face of the model is mask like, suggesting melancholy. Delaunay makes no attempt to depict her as attractive, giving the artwork a brusque, modern feel.


What are her thoughts on colour?

Colour is the skin of the world.

Colour was the hue of number.

One who knows how to appreciate colour relationships, the influence of one colour on another, their contrasts and dissonances, is promised an infinitely diverse imagery.

9 April 2015 on the Tate Modern website


Unknown photographer. 'Lizica Codreanu wearing the Pierrot-Éclair costume designed by Sonia Delaunay, on the set of René Le Somptier's 1926 film 'Le P'tit Parigot'' 1926


Unknown photographer
Lizica Codreanu wearing the Pierrot-Éclair costume designed by Sonia Delaunay, on the set of René Le Somptier’s 1926 film ‘Le P’tit Parigot’
Still photo from the film Le P’tit Parigot, written by Paul Cartoux, Directed by René Le Somptier, 1926, collection of Antoine Blanchette
© L & M SERVICES B.V. The Hague 20100623


Unknown photographer. 'Sonia Delaunay in front of her door-poem in the Delaunays' apartment, Boulevard Malesherbes, Paris' 1924


Unknown photographer
Sonia Delaunay in front of her door-poem in the Delaunays’ apartment, Boulevard Malesherbes, Paris
© Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris


Germaine Krull. 'Sonia Delaunay in her studio at boulevard Malesherbes, Paris, France' 1925


Germaine Krull (German, 1897-1985)
Sonia Delaunay in her studio at boulevard Malesherbes, Paris, France
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, © L & M SERVICES B.V. The Hague 20100623


Sonia Delaunay in Simultaneous dress c. 1913


Unknown photographer
Sonia Delaunay in Simultaneous dress
c. 1913


Bathing suits designed by Delaunay, c. 1920s


Unknown photographer
Bathing suits designed by Delaunay
c. 1920s



It was extremely inspiring to see a woman working with different disciplines – design, painting, textiles. Her reach was enviable. She was part of a tradition of Russian artists such as Liubov Popova and Varvara Stepanova who combined their knowledge of artisanal techniques with their beaux arts training as a way into the world of fashion. And her designs were outstanding. Look at her marvellous knitted bathing suit or patterned overcoat. If you were to walk into an exhibition and saw a woman dressed in that overcoat, she would steal the show.

Of course in Paris there were other powerful women designers, such as Madame Grès and Coco Chanel. The former’s designs were very sinuous, and Chanel was cutting back to the bone, whereas Sonia seemed to work on a frontal level. I like the powerful geometry of her designs – encasing a curvilinear body, contained and boxed-in like a walking cubist form. They were definitely not cute; they were harsh designs for husky women. I would have loved to see Gertrude Stein dressed in Sonia Delaunay’s clothes.

I admire her early paintings, especially Yellow Nude from 1908. You can’t really tell if the reclining figure that she has painted is male or female. It is coy, seductive, androgynous, as if she didn’t seem to care whether it was either. And if you read her biography, you find that she had a rather open attitude to sexuality – her first marriage was to a homosexual, and later to Robert. It was probably part of her shrewdness too – in making things work for her.

Has her work influenced mine? I came out of the Josef Albers camp, where colour was more magical and less obvious than Delaunay. I tend to go for unexpected nuanced colour combinations. So I would say not, but her workaholic attitude and willingness to experiment and try out things in different ways has. She was fearless, so why shouldn’t we be fearless. And I am very influenced by her teamwork – the big mural paintings she did for Palais de l’Air in 1937. I love those. She would have had teams of people working on them. They are such powerful works, so present and timeless. They send out a strong message – pronouncing a new world. They are not domestic works done at the easel. They are out in space. They are universal.

Sheila Hicks. “The multi-talented Delaunay. Sonia Delaunay: The Fortune of Colour,” Tate Etc. issue 34: Summer 2015 on the Tate Modern website, 8 June 2015 [Online] Cited 03/08/2015


Sonia Delaunay. Illustration for cover of 'Vogue' 1926


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Illustration for cover of Vogue


Sonia Delaunay. 'Simultané playing cards' 1964


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Simultané playing cards


Sonia Delaunay. 'Coat made for Gloria Swanson' 1923-24


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Coat made for Gloria Swanson
Private Collection
© Pracusa 2014083


Sonia Delaunay. 'Simultaneous Dresses (The three women)' 1925


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Simultaneous Dresses (The three women)
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
© Pracusa 2014083


Sonia Delaunay. 'Rythme' 1938


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979) 'Rythme' 1945


Sonia Delaunay (French, 1885-1979)
Grey Art Gallery, New York
© Pracusa 2014083



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London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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