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 Sonia Terk Delaunay  (1885 - 1979)

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Lived/Active: France/United States/Russian Federation/Ukraine      Known for: decorative painting, design, orphism

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Sonia Delaunay-Terk is primarily known as Sonia Terk Delaunay

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Sonia Delaunay was born in the Ukraine in 1885 and raised in St. Petersburg. After studying drawing at Karlsruhe under Schmidt-Reutter she came to Paris in 1905 to be close to avant-garde circles. She studied at the Academie de la Palette, where Ozenfant and Dunoyer de Segonzac were fellow students. Her early work was influenced by the Fauves; some of her pictures from this period have an expressionist edge that contrasts with the gaiety of her later work. She had a short-lived marriage to Wilhelm Uhde.

Her first show was in 1908; she married Robert Delaunay in 1910. She did not exhibit her paintings again in any number until 1953, twelve years after her husband's death. Although she would not compete with her husband, Sonia painted throughout her life.

Delaunay was not regarded as a great artist, but she was important. Her work was dismissed as being too decorative; but she did not diminish painting, she elevated the decorative arts. With her husband, she developed a style, sometimes called orphism, that was a spin-off of cubism. She was part of the radical drive to purify and elevate art through abstraction. At the same time, she helped direct art toward the gently decorative, a natural development, since decoration is itself generally abstract.

She worked continually throughout her long life in many artistic media beside painting. From the creation of a pieced quilt for her son in which she synthesized Russian peasant blanket design with Cubism, she moved on to collage, bookbinding, book illustration and eventually, to costume and theatre design, fashion design and decorative arts. She died in Paris in 1979 at the age of ninety-four.

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

Sources include:
National Museum of Women in the Arts Catalogue
Mark Stevens in "Newsweek Magazine", March 17, 1980
"The Oxford Companion to 20th Century Art", edited by Harold Osborne.

Biography from Denis Bloch Fine Art:
Russian born painter, graphic artist and designer Sonia Terk Delaunay was active in Paris and the wife of painter Robert Delaunay.  Her original surname was Stern, but she adopted the name Terk from a wealthy uncle who raised her in St. Petersburg. A friend of the family, Max Liebermann encouraged her to paint.

Like Marc Chagall, Sonia Terk emigrated from Russia to Paris in the first years of the twentieth century, joining Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Rouault, and Vlaminck in the remaking of art in the Post-Impressionist era.  She settled in Paris in 1905 and, after a short-lived marriage of convenience to artist Wilhelm Uhde, she married Robert Delaunay in 1910.

After the birth of their son, Sonia spontaneously made a patchwork quilt for Charles' crib: "About 1911 I had the idea of making for my son a blanket composed of bits of fabric like those I had seen in the houses of Russian peasants. When it was finished, the arrangements of the pieces of material seemed to me to evoke Cubist conceptions and then we tired to apply the same process to other objects and paintings."

The couple became associated with the development of Orphism*?a highly abstract art movement which paralleled the geometry of Cubism* but with a much brighter color palette.  Sonia's first large scale painting in this new style was Bal Bullier (1912-13) a work known for its use of color and movement.  It is said that painter Paul Klee was so taken with Terk-Delaunays' patterning of squares from a 1912 illustrated book, that they became an enduring in his own work.

During the 1910-1920s, she focused upon bringing this new artistic lyricism into the world of design, transforming Art Deco* fabrics into vibrant high fashion clothing, wall coverings, furniture textiles, as well as, theatrical costumes.  In the 1930s, Terk-Delaunay returned to a renewed focus on painting, joining the Abstraction-Creation group in seeking to create an art based upon non-representational elements, often geometrical, and continuing to focus on color as central to painting.  The group was trans-national, and including among its members Jean Arp, Barbara Hepworth, Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian.  In 1937 Sonia collaborated with her husband on a mural for the Paris Exposition.

After Robert Delaunay's death in 1941, she continued to work and exhibit regularly as a painter & designer, often turning to printmaking.  In 1963 Terk-Delaunay donated 58 of her own works and 40 of her husband's to the Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris.  She became the first woman ever to be exhibited at the Louvre during her lifetime when the museum mounted an exhibition of the works the following year.

In an essay she wrote for her 1967 retrospective at the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Delaunay wrote of her 1920s experiments in color: "they were and remain ranges of colors, and based on the purified conception of our painting?My research was purely pictorial and in plastic terms a discovery which served both of us in our painting.  Rhythm is based upon numbers, for color can be measured by the number of vibrations."

Sonia Terk-Delaunay died in 1979 at the age of 94 with no regrets in her life. "Everything I've done, I've had fun doing" she remarked on the occasion of her 90th birthday.

"I am attracted by pure colors. Colors from my childhood?from the Ukraine. Memories of peasant weddings in my country in which the red and green dresses, decorated with many ribbons, billowed in dance."

Select Museum Collections:
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Museum of Modern Art, NYC
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC
Tate Gallery, London
Louvre, Paris

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary:

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