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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!




The EY Exhibition

Sonia Delaunay


Propeller (Air Pavilion) 1937, Skissernas Museum, Lund, Sweden © Pracusa 2014083


Organised by the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris-Musees and Tate Modern


Tate Modern


15 April – 9 August 2015



‘She believed in art and life, and lived her art,’ says Juliet Bingham, curator of the UK’s first retrospective on Sonia Delaunay. This is no walking cliché. She made dress-poems, created ‘the red and green silences’ and used everything from her marriage to gallery owner, Wilhelm Uhde, marriage to Robert Delaunay – ‘a poet who wrote not with words but with colours’ - to become one of the stand-out artists of the early 20th century. So why has it taken so long for her work to be celebrated?

Delaunay’s progress from figurative to abstract painting is a story of absorption from her Russian background in Odessa, St Petersburg, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse, Madrid, Spain, collaboration with Robert and a return to Paris after his death in 1946. Consciously, these two artistic principles inform her work. What you are not prepared for in this ground-breaking exhibition is the diversity of her experimentation from clothing to cars, studies to panels, fabrics, posters and furniture.

There is a series of photographs promoting her designs and it is hard to tell where foreground and background begins or ends. This is deliberate. Similarly in a film attributed to Jean Jacquemond, 1925, Delaunay is seen, centre frame, exuberantly displaying her fabric designs her face elated; another sequence shows a model step out of a gold dress, against a blue-gold background, who sashays away from the camera now dressed in blue, chameleon-like; much like Delaunay herself.


Sonia Delaunay and two friends in Robert Delaunay’s studio 1924, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

The paintings really impress in their joyful experiments in tone, ‘Philomene,’ 1907, the Finnish Girl/Woman series, 1907 to the dynamism of the ‘Bal Bullier,’ the experiments in light and colour in ‘Electric Prisms,’ ‘The Market at Minho,’ Portugal, from 1912 – 1916 or the three huge panels to celebrate commerce and art in 1937 titled, ‘Motor, Dashboard, Propeller.’ The ‘haloes of reflected light’ lose their titles in her later work, yet none of her vigour, in favour of single ideas: ‘rhythm,’ ‘colour,’ ‘composition,’ impulses or themes which continually recur. 

There is a black and white photograph of her sitting in front of a version of the 1925 painting, ‘3 Women in Simultaneous Dresses.’ Nearby is the vibrant original. Lines, shapes and colours blend, collide: blue and white triangles set against umber, red rectangular lines, against a block-black, horizontal-strip blue. This is order not chaos. The Delaunay’s coined Simultanism: colour over geometric shape in an age when Dance and Jazz proved fitting metaphors. Diaghilev asked her to costume Cleopatra, and a series of montage shots show just how daring and dynamic this was. In Room 12, ‘Syncopated Jazz’ is exhibited alongside ‘Endless Rhythm’; all is movement.   


Simultaneous Dresses (The three women) 1925, Museo ThyssenBornemisza © Pracusa 2014083


Sonia Delaunay was a shrewd business-woman and a survivor. She opened Casa Sonia in Madrid, contributed over 200 designs to the German Company Metz & Co, and founded her label Simultane, counting Gloria Swanson and Nancy Cunard among her client-base. She knew about branding before the legendary Peter York spun his magic. And in those middle years Delaunay turned her brand name to the applied art of art.

The final two rooms are titled Goaches and Reinventions - ‘Mallarme,’ 1963 and ‘Tzara,’ 1961, recall Matisse, while the painting ‘Syncopated Rhythm Known as Black Snake,’ 1967, sits with ‘Endless Rhythm, Dance,’ 1964 and ‘Rhythm Colour,’ 1967, in an explosion of colour.

Sonia Delaunay artist, business-woman, moderne, vividly brought Art to Life in the first half of the 20th century - ‘the avant-garde queen of loud wearable art.’ ‘What had people been saying about me up to then?’ She writes in her autobiography. ‘Muse of Orphism, decorator, Robert Delaunay’s partner....before admitting that the work existed in its own right.’ Long live the Queen.....


Two models wearing fur coats with a car painted after Sonia Delaunay’s fabrics 1925, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris


Tate Modern
Bankside, London SE1 9TG
Tickets £16.00, Concs.  £14.00
Sunday – Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00


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