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 Robert Delaunay  (1885 - 1941)

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: painting-cubism

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Robert Delaunay was born in Paris in 1885, a few years after Braque and Picasso.  He was a big blond bright-eyed man, the son of a well-off engineer and so he was not afflicted by the poverty that befell most of his fellow artists.  After training as a decorative commercial painter he took up an artistic career in 1904.  About 1906 he became interested in Neo-Impressionism and the color theories of Eugene Cheuvrel and embarked upon the research into the aesthetic applications of color which remained the central motive throughout his artistic life.  He gave all of his time to painting.

Delaunay was lucky in his marriage, too.  He met Russian-born Sonia Terk in 1909 and they were married in 1910.  She was also a gifted artist and they worked out an unusually harmonious balance between their talents.  They started talking art as soon as they woke up.  In his worse moments, Delaunay was a crashing bore, capable of empying a room with his theoretical diatribes.  It was said that he was, to the last, an only child.

Delaunay belonged to no movement.  His rainbow-hued paintings shared very little with cubism.  He painted the Eiffel Tower over and over again.  He made a series of compositions based on brightly banded circles, one of which ""The First Disc"" painted in 1912, is almost certainly the first abstract picture painted in France by a Frenchman.  He associated with members of the cubist movement and exhibited with them at the Salon des Independants; also the Blaue Reiter group in Germany.  Franz Marc, August Macke and Paul Klee in particular were influenced by his color.

The 1914 war caught the Delaunays unaware; they were in Portugal and they stayed there and in Spain until 1920. In so doing, he missed the horrors of the front. Portugese police who saw him painting enormous disks on vast expanses of canvas at his seaside villa near Lisbon suspected him of drawing signals for German submarines. They found that Delaunay's circles were meaningless. For some reason his painting, after he got back to Paris, was never quite to regain the life-affirming energy of his prewar work. From then on his wife became the stronger half of the creative partnership. He died of cancer in 1941 in exile in Montpelier.

Submitted August 2004 by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
"Time Magazine", July 29, 1957
Robert Hughes in "Time", August 23, 1976
"The Oxford Companion to 20th Century Art", edited by Harold Osborne.

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