Sonia Delaunay. Plate (folio 8) from 10 Origin. 1942. Linoleum cut from a portfolio of six linoleum cuts, three woodcuts, and one lithograph, composition (irreg.): 10 9/16 × 7 15/16" (26.9 × 20.2 cm); page (each): 10 5/8 × 8 1/4" (27 × 21 cm). Purchase

“We are...only at the beginning of color research (full of mysteries still to be discovered)....”

Sonia Delaunay

Red and green, blue and orange, yellow and violet: these color combinations were vital to the artistic practice and theory of Sonia Delaunay, whose vast body of work—paintings and drawings, prints and illustrations, textiles and furnishings, clothing and accessories—enthralled its earliest viewers, users, and wearers. While living in Paris in the 1910s, Delaunay and her husband, Robert Delaunay, began to explore the visual properties of contrasting colors—colors opposite one another on the color wheel. The pairing of two such colors, they realized, heightened the optical intensity, making both colors appear more vivid than they would on their own. Studying color inside and outside of the studio, in their own creations and in Parisian museums, galleries, and exhibitions, Delaunay and Delaunay pursued a shared passion for hues made brilliant, even dynamic through their relationships to each other. “[19]12, [19]13, [19]14, what rich and explosive years for Robert and me!” Delaunay later recalled. “We had rediscovered the moving principle of any work of art: the light, the movement of color.”1

Delaunay’s lifelong fascination with color emerged during her childhood in the Ukrainian village of Gradizhsk, where she was born Sara Stern in 1885. In a memoir published the year before her death, she would write of “memories of the peasant weddings of my country, where the red and green dresses, ornamented with many ribbons, flew about in dancing.”2 Sara became Sonia at the age of seven, when her working-class parents sent their youngest daughter to live with wealthy relatives in St. Petersburg. In the household of Henri Terk, her maternal uncle, Sonia Terk enjoyed a privileged upbringing replete with private schools, international travel, and art lessons. With the support of her uncle, she left St. Petersburg for Germany as a teenager to advance her study of art. “There is just one thing I need: to have a place where I can be alone, even if only for one hour a day,” she recorded in her diary shortly before leaving Russia. “I have already decided that, as soon as possible, I will settle in Paris or London, life is broader and happier there.”3

As planned, Terk moved to Paris following her studies in Germany. And as predicted, life in the French capital proved “broader and happier.” After painting seriously for several years, Terk held her first individual exhibition in 1908; she married Robert Delaunay in 1910. Together, the couple developed what they called “simultanéisme” (“Simultanism”), a mode of art centered not on the representation of real-world figures, objects, or scenes but rather on the “simultaneous contrast” of colors. According to Delaunay, the phrase “simultaneous contrast” came from a 19th-century scientific treatise on color theory that her husband admired, but that she felt was less significant to her own practice than sustained experiments in collage.4 Using pieces of brightly colored paper and fabric, the artist created quilts, curtains, and lampshades for her home, as well as “simultaneous dresses” that she herself wore around Paris. In 1913, Delaunay announced the publication of the “first simultaneous book.” A collaboration between her and the writer Blaise Cendrars, La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Joan of France) extends Simultanism from the realm of color into the realm of words and images, and space and time. The book comprises a lengthy sheet that unfolds to reveal Cendrars’s poem at right and Delaunay’s illustrations at left, an unusual format that allows for the synchronous contemplation of both art forms while also evoking the lengthy, trans-Siberian train journey that provides the book’s plot. Moreover, both the poem and the illustrations juxtapose near and far, past and present—juxtapositions that critics and scholars have related to new technologies in transportation and communication.5

From the 1910s to the 1970s, Delaunay applied her Simultanism to painting, design, and fashion. Portuguese Market, undertaken when the artist and her family lived in Portugal during World War I, depicts a towering heap of fruits and vegetables. Yet the true protagonist of the painting is color: at center, a luscious orb—perhaps a melon—rendered in rounded stripes of orange, yellow, green, and red; to either side, bold arrangements of sometimes glossy, sometimes matte pigments that suggest the sights, smells, and sounds of a bustling marketplace. Unsurprisingly, color is a prominent feature of Delaunay’s descriptions of Portugal. “The light was not intense,” she later remembered, “but it enhanced all the colors—the multicolor or dazzling white houses of sober design, the peasants in folk costumes, the materials, the ceramics that had amazingly pure lines of ancient beauty.”6

The Iberian country reminded Delaunay of Ukraine, and these reminiscences would shape her work in subsequent years. Whether she was devising fabrics for department stores, costumes for plays, or murals for international exhibitions, Delaunay looked back to the craft traditions—in particular, the vibrant colors and rhythmic patterns—of her childhood. At the same time, she looked ahead to the future. In a 1926 lecture on fashion delivered at the Sorbonne University, for instance, Delaunay argued that modern women needed modern clothing. Out with corsets, and in with comfortable, colorful garments that enabled active lives. “We are, however, only at the beginning of color research (full of mysteries still to be discovered), which is the basis of the modern vision,” the artist concluded. “We can enrich, complete, develop this color vision further—others besides ourselves can continue it—but we cannot return to the past.”7

Annemarie Iker, independent scholar, 2022

  1. Sonia Delaunay quoted in Sherry A. Buckberrough, “An Art of Unexpected Contrasts,” in Sonia Delaunay: A Retrospective (Buffalo, NY: Albright-Knox Gallery, 1980), 102-103.

  2. Delaunay quoted in Gail Levin, “Threading Jewish Identity: The Sara Stern in Sonia Delaunay,” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies vol. 15, no. 1 (January 2016), 93-94.

  3. Delaunay quoted in Jean-Claude Marcadé, “1885—1908,” in Sonia Delaunay (London: Tate Publishing, 2014), 21.

  4. For Delaunay’s discussion of Michel Eugène Chevreul’s De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs (Paris: Pitois-Levrault et Cie, 1839), see The New Art of Color: The Writings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, ed. Arthur A. Cohen (New York: Viking Press, 1978), 201-203.

  5. See Jodi Hauptman, “Sonia Delaunay,” in Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art, ed. Cornelia Butler and Alexandra Schwartz (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2010), 83-87, and Marjorie Perloff, “Profond Aujourd’hui,” The Futurist Moment: Avant-Garde, Avant Guerre, and the Language of Rupture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 2-41.

  6. Delaunay quoted in Sherry A. Buckberrough, “An Art of Unexpected Contrasts,” in Sonia Delaunay: A Retrospective (Buffalo, NY: Albright-Knox Gallery, 1980), 46.

  7. Delaunay, “The Influence of Painting on Fashion Design” (1926), in The New Art of Color: The Writings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, ed. Arthur A. Cohen (New York: Viking Press, 1978), 203-207.

Wikipedia entry
Sonia Delaunay (French pronunciation: [sɔnja dəlonɛ]; 14 November 1885 – 5 December 1979) was a French artist born to Jewish parents, who spent most of her working life in Paris. She was born in the Russian Empire, now Ukraine, and was formally trained in Russia and Germany, before moving to France and expanding her practice to include textile, fashion, and set design. She was part of the School of Paris and co-founded the Orphism art movement, noted for its use of strong colours and geometric shapes, with her husband Robert Delaunay and others. She was the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre in 1964, and in 1975 was named an officer of the French Legion of Honor. Her work in modern design included the concepts of geometric abstraction, and the integration of furniture, fabrics, wall coverings, and clothing into her art practice. Sofia Ilinitchna Stern, or Sarah Elievna Stern was born youngest of three children on 14 November 1885 in Hradyzk, or in Odesa, both in Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire, to poor Jewish parents. Her father was foreman of a nail factory. At five she was orphaned and moved to Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire (now Russia), where she was cared for by her mother's brother, Henri Terk. Henri, a successful and affluent lawyer, and his wife Anna wanted to adopt her but her mother would not allow it. Finally in 1890 she was adopted by the Terks. She assumed the name Sonia Terk and received a privileged upbringing with the Terks. They spent their summers in Finland and travelled widely in Europe, introducing Sonia to art museums and galleries. When she was 16, she attended a well-regarded secondary school in St. Petersburg, where her skill at drawing was noted by her teacher. When she was 18, at her teacher's suggestion, she was sent to art school in Germany where she attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe. She studied in Germany until 1905 and then moved to Paris. When she arrived in Paris she enrolled at the Académie de La Palette in Montparnasse. Unhappy with the mode of teaching, which she thought was too critical, she spent less time at the Académie and more time in galleries around Paris. Her own work during this period was strongly influenced by the art she was viewing including the post-impressionist art of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Henri Rousseau and the Fauves including Matisse and Derain. In 1908 she entered into a "marriage of convenience" with German art dealer and gallery owner Wilhelm Uhde, allowing her access to her dowery, and giving Uhde cover for his homosexuality. Sonia Terk gained entrance into the art world via exhibitions at Uhde's gallery and benefited from his connections. Comtesse de Rose, mother of Robert Delaunay, was a regular visitor to Uhde's gallery, sometimes accompanied by her son. Sonia Terk met Robert Delaunay in early 1909. They became lovers in April of that year and it was decided that she and Uhde should divorce. The divorce was finalised in August 1910. Sonia was pregnant and she and Robert married on 15 November 1910. Their son Charles was born on 18 January 1911. They were supported by an allowance sent from Sonia's aunt in St. Petersburg. Sonia said about Robert: "In Robert Delaunay I found a poet. A poet who wrote not with words but with colours". In 1911, Sonia Delaunay made a patchwork quilt for Charles's crib, which is now in the collection of the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris. This quilt was created spontaneously and uses geometry and colour. "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 Ukrainian 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." Sonia Delaunay Contemporary art critics recognize this as the point where she moved away from perspective and naturalism in her art. Around the same time, cubist works were being shown in Paris and Robert had been studying the colour theories of Michel Eugène Chevreul; they called their experiments with colour in art and design simultanéisme. Simultaneous design occurs when one design, when placed next to another, affects both; this is similar to the theory of colours (Pointillism, as used by e.g. Georges Seurat) in which primary colour dots placed next to each other are "mixed" by the eye and affect each other. Sonia's first large-scale painting in this style was Bal Bullier (1912–13), a painting known for both its use of colour and movement. Other works from this time include her series of paintings entitled Simultaneous Contrasts. The Delaunays' friend, the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire, coined the term Orphism to describe the Delaunays' version of Cubism in 1913. It was through Apollinaire that in 1912 Sonia met the poet Blaise Cendrars who was to become her friend and collaborator. Sonia Delaunay described in an interview that the discovery of Cendrars' work “gave me [her] a push, a shock.” She illustrated Cendrars' poem La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Jehanne of France) about a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, by creating a 2m-long accordion-pleated book. Using simultaneous design principles the book merged text and design. The book, which was sold almost entirely by subscription, created a stir amongst Paris critics. The simultaneous book was later shown at the Autumn Salon in Berlin in 1913, along with paintings and other applied artworks such as dresses, and it is said that Paul Klee was so impressed with her use of squares in her binding of Cendrars' poem that they became an enduring feature in his own work. The Delaunays travelled to Spain in 1914, staying with friends in Madrid. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Sonia and Robert were staying in Hondarribia, in the Basque Country, with their son still in Madrid. They decided not to return to France. In August 1915 they moved to Portugal, where they shared a home with Samuel Halpert and Eduardo Viana. They discussed an artistic partnership with Viana and their friends Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, whom the Delaunays had already met in Paris, and José de Almada Negreiros. In Portugal she painted Marché au Minho (Market in Minho, 1916), which she later says was "inspired by the beauty of the country". Sonia had a solo exhibition in Stockholm (1916). The Russian Revolution brought an end to the financial support Sonia received from her family in Russia, and a different source of income was needed. In 1917 the Delaunays met Sergei Diaghilev in Madrid. Sonia designed costumes for his production of Cleopatra (stage design by Robert Delaunay) and for the performance of Aida in Barcelona. In Madrid she decorated the Petit Casino (a nightclub) and founded Casa Sonia, selling her designs for interior decoration and fashion, with a branch in Bilbao. She was the center of a Madrid Salon. Sonia Delaunay travelled to Paris twice in 1920 looking for opportunities in the fashion business, and in August she wrote a letter to Paul Poiret stating she wanted to expand her business and include some of his designs. Poiret declined, claiming she had copied designs from his Ateliers de Martine and was married to a French deserter (Robert). Galerie der Sturm in Berlin showed works by Sonia and Robert from their Portuguese period the same year. Sonia, Robert and their son Charles returned to Paris permanently in 1921 and moved into Boulevard Malesherbes 19. The Delaunays' most acute financial problems were solved when they sold Henri Rousseau's La Charmeuse de serpents (The Snake Charmer) to Jacques Doucet. Sonia Delaunay made clothes for private clients and friends, and in 1923 created fifty fabric designs using geometrical shapes and bold colours, commissioned by a manufacturer from Lyon. Soon after, she started her own business and simultané became her registered trademark. For the 1923 staging of Tristan Tzara's play Le Cœur à Gaz she designed the set and costumes. In 1924 she opened a fashion studio together with Jacques Heim. Her customers included Nancy Cunard, Gloria Swanson, Lucienne Bogaert and Gabrielle Dorziat. With Heim she had a pavilion at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, called boutique simultané. Sonia Delaunay gave a lecture at the Sorbonne on the influence of painting on fashion. "If there are geometric forms, it is because these simple and manageable elements have appeared suitable for the distribution of colors whose relations constitute the real object of our search, but these geometric forms do not characterize our art. The distribution of colors can be effected as well with complex forms, such as flowers, etc. ... only the handling of these would be a little more delicate." Sonia designed costumes for two films: Le Vertige directed by Marcel L'Herbier and Le p'tit Parigot, directed by René Le Somptier, and designed some furniture for the set of the 1929 film Parce que je t'aime (Because I love you). During this period, she also designed haute couture textiles for Robert Perrier, while participating actively in his artistic salon, R-26. The Great Depression caused a decline in business. After closing her business, Sonia Delaunay returned to painting, but she still designed for Jacques Heim, Metz & Co, Perrier and private clients. She said "the depression liberated her from business". 1935 the Delaunays moved to rue Saint-Simon 16. By the end of 1934 Sonia was working on designs for the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, for which she and Robert worked together on decorating two pavilions: the Pavillon des Chemins de Fer and the Palais de l'Air. Sonia however did not want to be part of the contract for the commission, but chose to help Robert if she wanted. She said "I am free and mean to remain so." The murals and painted panels for the exhibition were executed by fifty artists including Albert Gleizes, Léopold Survage, Jacques Villon, Roger Bissière and Jean Crotti. Robert Delaunay died of cancer in October 1941. After the second world war, Sonia was a board member of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles for several years. Sonia and her son Charles in 1964 donated 114 works by Sonia and Robert to the Musée National d'Art Moderne. Alberto Magnelli told her "she and Braque were the only living painters to have been shown at the Louvre". In 1966 she published Rythmes-Couleurs (colour-rhythms), with 11 of her gouaches reproduced as pochoirs and texts by Jacques Damase, and in 1969 Robes poèmes (poem-dresses), also with texts by Jacques Damase containing 27 pochoirs. For Matra, she decorated a Matra 530. In 1975 Sonia was named an officer of the French Legion of Honor. From 1976 she developed a range of textiles, tableware and jewellery with French company Artcurial, inspired by her work from the 1920s. Her autobiography, Nous irons jusqu'au soleil (We shall go up to the sun) was published in 1978. In 1967 (25 February – 5 April) she was a part of an exhibition of artist-decorated cars entitled 'Cinq voitures personnalisées par cinq artistes contemporains' ('Five Cars Personalized by Five Contemporary Artists') organized by the journal Réalités as a fundraiser for French medical research. She designed the pattern for a Matra 530 by experimenting with optical effects causing the car to recompose the pattern into a light blue shade when in motion 'so as not to attract other drivers' attention to the point of causing accidents through distraction.' Sonia Delaunay died 5 December 1979, in Paris, aged 94. She was buried in Gambais, next to Robert Delaunay's grave. Her son, Charles Delaunay, became an expert in jazz music during the 1930s. He was a jazz critic, organizer of jazz concerts and a founder of the Hot Club of France (the first jazz club in France) and the first editor of Jazz Hot Magazine, the club's official publication. Delaunay's painting Coccinelle was featured on a stamp jointly released by the French Post Office, La Poste and the United Kingdom's Royal Mail in 2004 to commemorate the centenary of the Entente Cordiale. US fashion designer Perry Ellis devoted his fall 1984 collection to Delaunay, producing knits and prints in Delaunay colors and patterns. Aberbach Fine Art, 988 Madison Avenue, January - February 1974. Sonia Delaunay was one of the artists presented in the retrospective group exhibition Dada is Dada at Bildmuseet, Umeå University, Sweden, running from 2017-11-17 to 2018-05-20. Baron, Stanley; Damase, Jacques (1995). Sonia Delaunay: The Life of an Artist. Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-3222-9. Baron, Stanley; Damase, Jacques (1995). Sonia Delaunay : the life of an artist. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-23703-4. Delaunay, Robert; Delaunay, Sonia (1978). Arthur A. Cohen (ed.). The New Art of Color. The Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-50636-2. Düchting, Hajo (1995). Delaunay. Taschen. ISBN 3-8228-9191-6. Grosenick, Uta (2001). Women Artists in the 20th and 21st Century. Taschen. ISBN 3-8228-5854-4. Robert Delaunay - Sonia Delaunay: Das Centre Pompidou zu Gast in Hamburg. Hamburger Kunsthalle. 1999. ISBN 3-7701-5216-6. Delaunay, Sonia; Morano, Elizabeth; Vreeland, Diana (1986). Sonia Delaunay: art into fashion. G. Braziller. ISBN 0-8076-1112-3. Chadwick, Whitney; True Latimer, Tirza (2003). The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris Between the Wars. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-3292-9. Delaunay, Sonia; Damase, Jacques (1966). Rythmes-Couleurs. Galerie Motte. OCLC 460063028. Damase, Jacques (1991). Sonia Delaunay, mode et tissus imprimés. Jacques Damase. ISBN 978-2-904632-34-1. (English translation by Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 1991) Delaunay, Sonia; Damase, Jacques (1978). Nous irons jusqu'au soleil. Robert Laffont. ISBN 978-2-221-00063-2. d'Orgeval, Domitille (7 November 2003). "L'histoire du Salon des réalités nouvelles de 1946 à 1956" (PDF). Le Journal des Arts. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2010. "Robert et Sonia Delaunay, Donation Sonia et Charles Delaunay" (PDF). Centre Pompidou. 1 October 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 February 2010. Retrieved 19 April 2010. Seidner, David (1982). "Sonia Delaunay: interview, Spring 1978, Paris". BOMB Magazine. No. 2/Winter 1982. Archived from the original on 18 December 2014. Retrieved 23 June 2013.. Slevin, Tom (2010). "Sonia Delaunay's Robe Simultanée: Modernity, Fashion and Transmediality". Fashion Theory. 17 (1): 27–54. doi:10.2752/175174113X13502904240695. S2CID 191341807. Sonia Delaunay Art Deco, video by The New York Public Library Sonia Delaunay Revolutionary Mother of Abstraction Tate Modern Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica. "Sonia Delaunay: Carte". arskey (in Italian). teknemedia. Archived from the original on 31 July 2017. Sonia Delaunay artworks at Ben Uri Sonia Delaunay Sonia Delaunay, Aberbach Fine Art, 988 Madison Avenue January - February 1974, exhibition poster (lithograph) Parce que je t'aime at IMDb
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
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French, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Ukrainian
Artist, Decorative Painter, Fashion Designer, Designer, Tapestry Designer, Textile Designer, Painter
Sonia Delaunay, Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Sonia Delaunay-Turk, Sonia Stern, Sonia Terk, Sophie Delaunay-Terk, Sonia Elievna Delaunay, Sonia Elievna- Terk, Sonia Delaunay- Terk, Sonia Delaunay-Ferk, Sonia Delaunay- Ferk, Sonia Delone, Sonia Terk Delaunay, Sonja Elievna Delone, Sarah Stern, Sophie Stern, Sonja Terk, Delaunay-Terk
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


52 works online



  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
  • MoMA Now: Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art—Ninetieth Anniversary Edition Hardcover, 424 pages
  • Sonia Delaunay: A Life of Color Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 376 pages

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