Sonia Delaunay

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Tate Modern in London is currently hosting the first UK retrospective of the life and work of visionary artist Sonia Delaunay. The exhibition runs until August 9 2015. The exhibition catalogue is available in GSA Library, along with a pop-up book of her designs specially commissioned for the exhibition from Gerard Lo Monaco.

Delaunay was a multi-disciplinary abstract artist and key figure in the Parisian avant-garde of the early to mid twentieth century. Alongside her husband, Robert, she pioneered the radical art movements Orphism and Simultanism. Born originally to Ukranian parents, she soon moved to Paris and here began to work across a variety of artistic media. In 1918 she founded Casa Sonia, an influential interiors and fashion boutique, before designing the sets and costumes for a number of theatre shows and films. Her textiles label Tissus Delaunay marketed her designs worldwide.

Orphism was originally christened in 1912 by poet and critic Guillaume Appollinaire who identified a new style of Cubist painting. Appollinaire was inspired by the work of František Kupka and the Delaunays, who, although channelling the Cubist vision, prioritised colour in their work. Appollinaire felt this use of colour brought movement, light and musical qualities to the artwork and therefore referenced the legendary poet and singer of ancient Greek mythology, Orpheus.

Delaunay soon developed Orphism into her own variant called Simultanism. The name comes from the work of French scientist Michel Eugène Chevreul who identified the phenomenon of ‘simultaneous contrast’, in which colours appear different depending on the colours around them. For example, a grey will look lighter on a dark background than it does on a light one. The Delaunays dispensed with form and aimed to created rhythm, motion and depth through overlapping patches of vibrant hues.

GSA Library is lucky to hold two rare volumes featuring the designs of Delaunay, both of which came to us with the Stoddard-Templeton Collection. Tapis et Tissus was published in 1929 in Paris by Charles Moreau and features the work of other influential female designers Eileen Gray and Anni Albers. Paris 1928 was published in Paris that year by A. Calavas.

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