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Sonia Delaunay (1885–1979)

Author of Sonia Delaunay, a Retrospective

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Sonia Delaunay was born Sarah Stern, nicknamed "Sonia," to a Jewish family in a village in the Ukraine. Her father was a factory worker who rose to become foreman. At age 5, Sonia went to live with her wealthy maternal uncle and his wife in St. Petersburg, and took their surname Terk; eventually they adopted her. She had a better education and more privileged lifestyle with the Terks, who spent their summers in Finland and traveled widely in Europe. Sonia learned to speak French, German and English, and was taken to art museums and galleries. Her artistic skills as a teenager were noted by her secondary school teacher. At age 18, she was sent to art school in Germany, where she studied for two years until 1905, when she moved to Paris. There she entered the Académie de La Palette in Montparnasse, lived with Russian friends in the Latin Quarter, and visited art galleries in and around Paris. Her own work at this time was influenced by Van Gogh, Gauguin, and the Fauvistes. In 1908, she married Wilhelm Uhde, the owner of an art gallery who gave her her first solo show. It was a short-lived union that's considered to have been a marriage of convenience, perhaps to help Sonia avoid returning to Russia. Sonia met Robert Delaunay, a neighbor, in 1909. They became lovers and married in 1910; their son Charles was born shortly afterwards. Sonia Delaunay and her husband shared a similar aesthetic and developed the art movement known as Orphism, also called Simultaneism, an offshoot of Cubism mixed with Futurism. Their work featured repeating geometric patterns in bold colors, based partly on Russian folk art that Sonia had known as a child. In 1918, Sonia Delaunay designed her first set of costumes for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. While her husband focused on painting, Sonia went on to create costumes and sets for various theatrical organizations, as well as fabrics, tapestries, and clothing, and even painted a car. The Delaunays created several wall-sized murals for the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. They fled at the start of World War II for Montpellier, where Robert died in 1941. Sonia published several books on her work and from the 1950s on, received numerous awards. In 1964 she became the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre, and in 1975 she was awarded the Legion of Honor. Later she developed a range of textiles, tableware, and jewellery inspired by her work from the 1920s. Her autobiography, Nous irons jusqu'au soleil (We Shall Go Up to the Sun) was published in 1978.
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