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Robert and Sonia Delaunay

The artist couple Robert and Sonia Delaunay embodied modernity in a unique way that attempts to link art and its formal consequences with an application in life. At its opening in 1997, the Deutsche Guggenheim exhibited Robert Delaunay’s series under the title, Paris Visions. An exhibition in the Centre Pompidou in Paris provides a comprehensive survey of the two artists work.

"Du rouge au vert tout le jaune se meurt / Paris Vancouver Hyeres Maintenon New York et les Antilles / La fenetre s'ouvre comme une orange / Le beau fruit de la lumiere." Calligramme, Guillaume Apollinaire, 1918

In 1912 the french poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire labelled the pictures of Robert Delaunays "secretive" (franz. orphique) and thus coined the term " orphism." Yet Robert Delaunay’s art is just as difficult to describe as the music of the lyre player Orpheus from Greek mythology.


Robert Delaunay:
Ville de Paris. La femme et la tour, 1925
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
The series that was created between 1909 and 1914, Saint-Severin, Eiffel Tower, City Sights and Windows comprise the most important phase in the work of Robert Delaunay. Inspired by the movements, the new electric light and the new means of transportation such as balloon, zeppelin, automobile and airplane, he developed a synthesis of impressionism and cubism with his intensive colour painting. He founded abstraction picture for picture out of the colour and light of modern society.

Delaunay’s works met with great enthusiasm in Germany too (more about this here). They were a strong influence on the German expressionists such as Kandinsky, Franz Marc and August Macke who belonged to The Blue Rider. Thus works by Delaunay were also shown in 1911 at the first and most important exhibition of The Blue Rider in Munich. The first exhibition dedicated solely to Delaunays work was in the Berlin gallery called Der Sturm.

The Deutsche Guggenheim also gave a reverent demonstration of the close relationship between Delaunays and Germany. When the new Kunsthalle in Berlin was jointly founded by the Solomon R. Guggenheim foundation and the Deutsche Bank in 1997 and presented their first exhibition, they showed Paris Visions: Robert Delaunays series, where the artist’s great series of paintings were first presented in a one-man show.

With these paintings, Robert Delaunay made one of the most important contributions to the development of the new understanding of art in Paris at the beginning of the 20th Century. His wife, the painter Sonia Delaunay, spread the new aesthetic with artistic know-how, bringing it into the everyday in an enterprising way. She designed interiors, clothes and costumes. Both artists embody in a singular way that modernity which seeks to link art and the formal consequences to an application in life.



Robert Delaunay: Rythme, joie de vivre, 1931
Sammlung Deutsche Bank


An excellent view of Robert and Sonia Delaunay’s work is presented in an exhibition at Centre Pompidou in Paris that traces the couples innovative and ingenious dialogue that was an integral part of their creative process from the beginning of the century up to the 60’s. It emphasizes the role of painting for modernity and the decisive impact they had on it through their use of color, light and abstract movements.


Robert Delaunay: Autoportrait, 1905-1906
Centre Pompidou Collection, Musée national d'art moderne
Sonia Delaunay and Charles Delaunay Donation, 1964
©L & M Services B.V Amsterdam
Photo: CNAC-MNAM Dist. RMN, Jacqueline Hyde


The couple became acquainted in 1909 through the gallery of Wilhelm Uhde. They married one year later. Robert Delaunay, who was born in 1885 in Paris, had begun his artistic career as decorative painter in 1902 in Belleville which he continued, under the influence of Monet and Gauguin, as autodidact on the coast of Brittany. The Centre Pompidou shows the Self-portrait (1905-1906) as his last painting during this period. Born in the Ukraine in November 1885 as Sarah Stern, Sonia Delaunay had been adopted at the age of five by her uncle Henri Terk. In 1905 she began studying art at the Academie de la Palette in Paris, notedly inspired by the Fauves.

Both artists were strongly influenced by the theories of the French chemist Eugene Chevreul, who in his book De la loi du contraste simultane attempted to explain the simultaneous perception of divergent colours. Already in 1910, Sonia Delaunay developed the simultaneous contrast of light rainbow colours as a preferred stylistic device, known as simultaneism. With Contrastes simultanes, she created 1912 an abstract picture in which colour, form and sujet are simultaneous.

With astonishing speed Sonia Delaunay managed in the years following to establish her bright and colourful art in all areas of daily life – beginning with advertising posters, book covers and illustrations, fashion, decorations and even costumes for the theatre. In this way she had a significant impact on textile design during the twenties. For Robert Delaunay, Chevreul’s book was to introduce his "constructive phase" in which he juxtaposed contrasting and complimentary colours in a synthetic and harmonious composition.




Sonia Delaunay: Les Montres Zénith, 1914
Centre Pompidou Collection, Musée national d'art moderne
Sonia Delaunay and Charles Delaunay Donation, 1964
©L & M Services B.V Amsterdam
Photo: CNAC-MNAM Dist. RMN


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