Saturday, 6 June 2015

Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern

Yesterday I went with friends to the Sonia Delaunay retrospective at Tate Modern.  The exhibition started with works from her early years, at the turn of the 20th century, when she was inspired by the Fauvist exhibition at the Salon d'Automne and finished with works from the 1970s.  Her early works were colourful figurative pieces inspired by artists whose nick-name meant "wild beasts" because of their controversial (then) use of strong, brash colours.

Delaunay was born in 1885 in Odessa in the Ukraine.  At the age of five she was adopted by a wealthy uncle, Henri Terk and it was in this new life that she was introduced to museums, galleries and the St Petersburg bourgeoisie.  She studied art in Germany then moved to Paris.  She divorced her first husband to marry artist Robert Delaunay in 1910.  

As was usual for any woman in the early 20th century, when children arrived her priority became the home but she never stopped being an artist, just turned her home into a living gallery.  One of her early pieces on display is a bed cover made for baby Charles.  Quilters may not be impressed by her quality of stitch but her interest was in the use of colour and texture.  An early dress and waistcoat on display showed how she could bring her art into her everyday life, and turned herself into an artwork.

As well as colour, which both she and her husband experimented with, she was also inspired by modern life - including electric light, which was very new.  Music and dance were other major influences, in particular tango and flamenco.  She never forgot her Kroatian heritage but was also inspired by other countries she visited or lived in, in particular travels in Portugal and Spain.  

She collaborated with writers and poets, (I particularly liked the idea of her "poem-dresses") and designed costumes for Sergei Diaghilev of Ballets Russes.  The war prevented the family's return to France, and also meant the loss of her income from her Russian family, so she used  her design talents for a new income and opened Casa Sonia in Madrid.  She designed accessories, furniture and fabrics, which she sold at Casa Sonia and which were bought by the city's aristocracy.  Many of her textile designs, fabrics and costumes were included in the display at Tate.

As you walked through the galleries, her work became less and less figurative and more and more abstract.  One of her particular interests was how to interpret movement and the passing of time in her paintings.

Robert died in 1941 but Sonia continued to work into the 1970s.  She died in Paris, aged 94, in 1979 - the later works on display dated from the 1960s and 70s.  She also designed tapestries.

This is an interesting exhibition, not only showing the development of ideas but also showing how changes and challenges in Sonia's life influenced her creativity.

The exhibition continues until 9 August 2015 at Tate Modern, London.

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