Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)

Robert Delaunay’s gift to us is his bold use of colour.  His paintings express a great love of what he sees as the rhythm of nature and the movement of colors.  His work using coloured ‘simultaneous discs’ was influenced by the research of the 19th century chemist Eugene Chevreul who concluded that "Two adjacent colours, when seen by the eye, will appear as dissimilar as possible".

Delaunay’s work encourages us to see the world with fresh eyes, to notice the shape and colour of the world around us.  It fills us with feelings of light and optimism.  It calls us to embrace the world and our sense of place in it.

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Rhythm, Joie de Vivre, Robert Delaunay
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Early Years

Robert Delaunay was born into an aristocratic family in Paris, France in 1885.   He took up painting at an early age and when he was 17  was apprenticed to a studio in Paris specialising in theatrical backdrops. In 1907 he met his future wife, Sonia Terk, but romance between them didn’t blossom until sometime later. They met again in 1909 and married.

In 1909, Delaunay began to paint a series of studies of the city of Paris and the Eiffel Tower, works clearly influenced by Georges Braque and Paul Cezanne.   He apparently first painted the tower in celebration of his engagement to Sonia in 1909 and would make it the subject of at least thirty works over the next few years and again in the 1920s. 

In 1911, at the invitation of Wassily Kandinsky, Delaunay exhibited at The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) exhibition in  Munich and three of the four paintings submitted sold within the first two days. 

Development of a new style

Recognised until now as a Cubist (albeit a more colourful one), Delaunay’s works became more abstract and the French critic Apollinaire entitled this new style ‘Orphism’.  The work of the 19th century scientist, Eugene Chevreul (1786-1889) was hugely influential on Delaunay’s work, as it had been on the Impressionists before him.

The Delaunays, along with their son, spent the duration of The First World War in Portugal.  There then followed a period in Spain where they worked with Diaghilev designing sets and costumes for the Ballet Russes.  During this period, Sonia also started a fashion design business.

After the war, in 1921, they returned to Paris, becoming part of a circle which included Dadaists and artists who would later become Surrealists.  Delaunay’s work was less popular during this period and Sonia’s work as a designer was their main source of income.  Around 1930, Delaunay embarked on a series of paintings called Rythmes san Fin (Rhythms Without End) and there was a return of interest in his work.   During the Exposition Internationale de Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (1937) in Paris, Delaunay participated in the design of the railway and air travel pavilions, producing, along with Sonia and a team of artists, 25,000 square metres of murals. 

Later Years

When World War II erupted, the Delaunays moved to the Auvergne in an effort to avoid the invading German forces. They subsequently moved to the Midi.  However, suffering from cancer, Delaunay was unable to endure being moved around, and his health deteriorated. He died on October 25, 1941 in Montpellier.

 

After the war, Sonia organised the first major retrospective of Delaunay’s work in Paris in 1946.   

Robert Delaunay Signature
Delaunay Signature, 1914
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)