Every year there are one or two shows at Tate Modern that I am desperate to see. This Spring as soon as I noticed the colourful posters for Sonia Delaunay’s exhibition appearing, I put the exhibition on my to do list and ensured I saw it as soon as my busy diary allowed.
Sonia Delaunay had a long and interesting life – a Russian-born French artist, her work is striking and unique. She spent most of her career working in Paris with her husband Robert Delaunay, who was also an artist. Together they founded the Orphism art movement characterised by its use of vibrant colours and geometric shapes.
This major retrospective comes from Paris and features an impressive collection of Delaunay’s paintings, designs and embroidery. The first room instantly reminded me of Gauguin with the rich colours and expressive figures. The vividly coloured nudes are confident and bold, they illustrate her desire to break away from academic convention and are dark and moody in style.
It was when she met her husband in 1907 that her style began to incorporate abstraction. The use of Simultanism (a theory of simultaneous colour contrasts) is evident in all media, including a patchwork cradle cover she made for her young son. Delaunay’s abstract paintings (of which there are many) initially appear to employ random colours and shapes, but on closer inspection show the influence of modern technology and machinery, less obviously than in Futurism.
In was the later rooms dedicated to Delaunay’s contribution to fashion that surprised me the most. I had no idea she had had such a prominent role in design, textiles, and indeed was such a remarkable businesswoman – an area where many talented artists fall down. I loved seeing the outfits Sonia designed for dance productions, and how she applied her fascination with abstraction to the wonderful costumes.
It is clear wandering round this colourful show that it is the abstract works and decorative patterns of Sonia Delaunay that have had the most lasting success. However it was the first room of haunting female figures that I remembered long after leaving Tate.
Sonia Delaunay continues until 9 August. If you visit I recommend also popping into the Agnes Martin exhibition, very different to Delaunay but equally moving.
Book tickets here.