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Sonia Delaunay

November 14, 1885 - December 5, 1979


Multi-disciplinary artist Sonia Delaunay is considered to be French because she lived and worked in Paris for most of her career, but she was born in Odessa, Ukraine. Sonia Illinitchna Stern was the first child of a Jewish family in Odessa which was part of the Russian Empire. When she was seven, her parents sent her to live with wealthy relatives in St. Petersburg who adopted her, she then used their last name of Terk. When a teacher noted her drawing skills, she was sent to art school in Germany, and then moved to Paris to continue her education. There, the galleries offered her a greater education than her teachers did. She entered a marriage of convenience with German art collector and gallerist, Wilhelm Uhde who had many art world connections and promoted her work. When she met Robert Delaunay they fell in love and Uhde agreed to a divorce. She said that “in Robert Delaunay I found a poet. A poet who wrote not with words but with colours.”

The Delaunay’s child Charles was born in 1911, a few months after they were married. Sonia made a quilt for his crib based on folk quilts she had seen in Ukraine when she was young. She and Robert realized that the geometric patterns could be used as inspiration for other art. This was the term for what French poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire dubbed Orphism. It is related to Cubism but with a softer, more curvilinear feel. Sonia would illustrate books, and design sets and costumes for Serge Diaghilev, founder of Ballet Russes. She opened a fashion house and designed furniture. She was the first living woman artist to be honored with a retrospective at the Louvre and was named Officer of the National Order of the Legion of Honor, one of the highest tributes a citizen can be given in France.  She is also known as Sonia Delaunay-Terk, a nod to her adoptive parents. She integrated many different aspects of design into her art practice but she would always be inspired by the memories of the bright colors and patterns of her childhood in Ukraine.

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