Sonia Delaunay

1885–1979

The first living woman artist to be honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Musée du Louvre (1964), Sonia Delaunay blurred the line between “fine” art and “decorative” art.

Delaunay’s abstract compositions were directly inspired by the traditional quilts she saw during her childhood in Russia. Both prolific and innovative, she also extended her artistic talents to fashion, interior design, graphics, collage, book illustration and binding, and other decorative arts. 

Sonia Delaunay was born Sarah Stern (nicknamed Sonia) in Ukraine, where her father was a factory worker. At five, she went to live with a wealthy uncle in St. Petersburg and took his surname, Terk. She studied art in Karlsruhe, Germany, and beginning in 1905, in Paris, where she spent most of the rest of her life.

In 1910, she married the French painter Robert Delaunay, with whom she had a son. Together, husband and wife developed Orphism, also called Simultaneism, an artistic style that prized color over form. Like Cubism, Delaunay’s imagery is abstracted. Yet, unlike the largely monochrome Cubist art of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Delaunay’s works consist of bright hues and bold, repeating patterns inspired by Fauve painters, like Henri Matisse. 

In 1918, she designed her first costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s famous Ballets Russes. Delaunay also collaborated with couturiers and designed shop interiors and the fashions within. In 1937, she and her husband created large-scale murals for the Air and Railroad pavilions at the Paris World’s Fair.

Delaunay was highly successful and had numerous solo and group exhibitions during her lifetime. She was also honored with many awards, such as the French Légion d'Honneur (1975), Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (1958), and a gold medal for her two murals at the Paris World’s Fair (1937).

National Museum of Women in the Arts