Sonia Delaunay – stunning & sensational Simultané

I need to write about the most inspiring exhibition I’ve been to in the last few years; Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern in 2015. I hardly knew about her work before but what I saw and discovered there was sensational. She was Russian, born in Odessa in 1885, lived in St Petersburg, then in Germany and settled in Paris in 1906. She and her husband Robert Delaunay are said to be the pioneers of abstraction. However, her oeuvre is not just so-called abstract art.  What I found most exciting was her application of abstract shapes and patters in vivid colours and subtle hues into fabrics, clothes and interiors.

Left; ‘Sleeping Girl’ 1907, one of her early Fauvist paintings. Simplistic composition with no background details – plump rosy cheeks and relaxed fingers with a circle gold pendant. Right; Sonia in her studio.

She developed a concept of simultanéisme and ran her own fashion outlet in Paris, Boutique Simultané. The exhibition showed some tongue-in-cheek fashion film footage with models. Sonia Delaunay’s creations were so vibrant, it did not feel or look 100 years old. They were timeless masterpieces.  The subtlety of tones in paintings, drawings and fabric designs on show was extraordinary.  Repeated soft and flowing motifs on fabrics, the boldness of straight, diagonal or zigzag lines and undaunted brazen circles – they were all striking but also beautifully crafted.  See the blue embroidered shoe below. She used a Russian folk craft technique to create a ‘quilt painting’ – a unique, gorgeous piece and my favourite. 

Above from left; Cradle cover (‘Quilt painting’) 1911, embroidered shoe 1925,  embroidered gown for Gloria Swanson 1925, the Simaltané stand at the 17th Salon d’Automne 1924.

What I saw at this exhibition struck a chord with Vanessa Bell’s at Dulwich Art Gallery I’ve seen this year, particularly in fabric design. (That was another stunning exhibition and I was very excited to see Patti Smith’s photographs on show as well and to know that she, too, found inspiration in the Bloomsbury Group’s work and creative ideas.)  Above; Sonia and two friends at Robert Delaunay’s studio 1924.  

I have made a bunch of long necklaces and named the design Sonia. These are still on-going in production with several variations but the main design characteristic is that they have two different shapes and materials of beads split in the middle. They can be worn in a few different ways. Please search for ‘Sonia’ in the Search Box at the top.  Right; Sonia Delaunay’s fabric design samples for Metz & Co 1931.

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