Sonia Delaunay Facts
- 1. Adopted by her uncle
Born as Sarah Ilinitchna Stern in Ukraine in 1885, Delaunay was sent to live with her mother’s brother Henri Terk in St. Petersburg after his wife was declared infertile. It was a more cultured lifestyle than Delaunay had previously known, and during their trips to Europe the family would pay visits to museums and art galleries. Following several years in their care, she was formally adopted by the couple and changed her name to Sonia Terk.
- 2. Spoke four languages
By the time she was 18 Delaunay spoke Russian, French, German and English and was well read in all four.
3. Married twice
Sonia and Robert Delaunay formed one of art’s most infamous power couples, but he was not her first husband. In 1908, while living in Paris, she wed German art gallery owner Wilhelm Uhde. It was a marriage of convenience; she to free herself of her parents’ demands for her to return to Russia and he to hide his homosexuality. Udhe introduced her to Picasso, Derain and Braque, as well as other key figures from the flourishing art scene. The pair divorced in 1910, Sonia having fallen in love with Robert, but they remained close friends.
4. Didn’t like Matisse or Picasso
According to the artist, Matisse was ‘too timid, too bourgeois‘ and Picasso ‘always looked unhealthy‘.
5. Co-founded orphism…
Not only a couple but also artistic collaborators, the Delaunays experimented with abstract styles such as fauvism, surrealism and cubism before developing their own unique aesthetic. Characterised by strong colours and geometric shapes, the poet and art critic Guilliame Apollinaire dubbed the new style ‘orphism’.
6. Baby’s quilt
Delaunay credited a quilt she made for her baby son as the inspiration for orphism – ‘About 1911 I had the idea of making for Charles, 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‘.
7. Unconventional inspirations
The artist found she was influenced by ‘everything around [her]’, from poetry to music to historical artefacts – on trips to the Louvre she shunned the painting galleries in favour of the collections of Egyptian jewellery, Assyrian sculpture, and the arts of Mesopotamia. She said: ‘I was searching for something within myself and little by little it became abstract painting‘.
8. Didn’t make art for 10 years after her husband’s death
In 1941 Robert Delaunay died of cancer aged just 56. Sonia abandoned her career in order to devote herself entirely to preserving and promoting his legacy. She did not start painting again until the 1950s.
9. First living female artist to have a retrospective at the Louvre
It took place in 1964 and consisted of 117 works that she personally selected and donated to the museum.
10. Her son helped introduce jazz music to France
Charles Delaunay co-founded Hot Club de France which he used as a space to promote the previously unknown genre. He also authored the first ever Jazz discography, which was published worldwide.
Sonia Delaunay Art
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