Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay: The Art of Wearable Expression

Sonia Delaunay, a name synonymous with vibrant colors and mesmerizing designs, left an indelible mark as one of the greatest pioneers of the Modernist era. In a career spanning 60 years, she fearlessly explored various artistic mediums, including paintings, textiles, fashion design, costume, and interiors. Despite historical bias favoring her husband's abstract paintings, Sonia's eclectic and decorative approach has gained recognition in recent decades, with major galleries and museums acknowledging her remarkable legacy.

Born Sara Elievne Sterne to a humble Jewish family in Ukraine, Sonia's life took a dramatic turn when she was adopted by her wealthy aunt and uncle in St Petersburg at the age of 5. Renamed Sonia Terk, she discovered her artistic talent at a prosperous private school and eventually pursued art studies in Germany. However, it was Paris, with its burgeoning experimental art scene and avant-garde spirit, that became her true home after graduating at 21.

In Paris, Sonia immersed herself in the rebellious and bohemian culture that celebrated the arrival of a new era. Influenced by Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism, she and her husband Robert Delaunay became prominent figures in the French avant-garde. While Robert focused on painting, Sonia embraced the decorative arts and needlecraft, seamlessly integrating her ideas across different mediums. For her, there was no divide between fine and decorative arts; they were extensions of her artistic expression.

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

A pivotal moment in Sonia's artistic journey came when she stitched a little blanket for her son Charles. This quilt marked her transition from the figurative to the abstract, laying the foundation for Simultaneisme, a radical new concept developed by Sonia and Robert. Simultaneisme explored the patchwork of colors, separating them from reality and blending them together in geometric patterns and harmonies reminiscent of music or poetry. Drawing inspiration from her Russian heritage and the revival of folk arts and crafts, Sonia infused her art with rich color and pattern.

Portrait of Sonia and Robert Delaunay in front of Robert Delaunay’s ‘Helice’, 1923

During World War I, the Delaunays chose not to return to Paris and instead spent seven years traveling and painting in Spain and Portugal. When financial support from her family ceased after the October Revolution in 1917, Sonia began making costumes for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, establishing her own fashion and design house, Casa Sonia, in Madrid. Her success in fashion allowed her to merge her fabric designs seamlessly with her clothing, creating wearable works of art that epitomized the liberation and freedom of the era.

Sonia's innovative approach to fashion attracted high-profile clients, including American film star Gloria Swanson and English model Nancy Cunard. Her garments, cut to suit the lives of real women, broke free from traditional constraints, and she became a pioneer in feminism at a time when women's roles were undergoing transformation.

Tissu Simultané no. 46 Fabric designed by Sonia Delaunay, 1924, printed on silk plain weave

In addition to her fashion endeavors, Sonia continued to paint, exhibiting her vibrant patterns on lampshades, wall hangings, and furniture in their Parisian apartment. Their home became a Simultane showcase, where they hosted gatherings for artists, poets, writers, and intellectuals. Sonia's lectures on the influence of painting on the art of clothes further reinforced her belief in the harmonies of color and their translation into wearable art.

Throughout her career, Sonia collaborated with luxury stores and textile companies, including Metz & Co. in the Netherlands and Liberty in London, advocating for democratic fashion that raised general standards. She continued to paint alongside her successful work as a designer, embodying Simultaneisme throughout her life.

Sonia Delaunay's significant contributions to modern art and abstraction were overshadowed and marginalized for many years. However, recent retrospectives at Tate Modern and the Paris Museum of Modern Art have rightfully celebrated her groundbreaking position on the border between art and design. As a trailblazing pioneer in art, design, and feminism, Sonia Delaunay's influence can be felt in the important styles of the Jazz Age, the liberation of fashion in the 1960s, and beyond. Today, her seamless fusion of mediums and the belief in the integration of art and life solidify her status as a complete artist.

Reference: Sonia Delaunay: Wearable Art
Date: January 31, 2021
Author: Rosie Lesso

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