The EY Exhibition
at Tate Modern
Until 9th August 2015
Sonia Delaunay had a very long life – she lived to be 94 and those 94 years encompassed times of seismic social shifts and huge political turbulence, including two world wars, and of course artistically-speaking those same 94 years spanned the most radical years of European modernism and the avant-garde.
What comes across so strongly in this new exhibition at Tate Modern, the first UK retrospective of her work, is that Sonia Delaunay was there for all of it – witness and participant. When the Tango craze hit Paris in the 1910s, Sonia was there at the centre of it, at the tango ballroom Le Bal Bullier, painting the dancers and wearing her self-designed patchwork dress (below) that mimicked the colours and shapes in her paintings.
When Sergei Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes, lost all the costumes for his ballet Cleopatra in a fire, he asked his friend Sonia Delaunay to design new ones. She was friends with Wassily Kandinsky and Dadaist Tristan Tzara. She designed clothes for Gloria Swanson and architect Erno Goldfinger.
And when Picasso was exhibiting his iconic Guernica in the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology in Modern Life in 1937, Sonia and Robert Delaunay were there in charge of the Railway and Air Pavilions, Sonia creating large-scale murals filled with propellers and cockpit instrument panels (three of which are here in this show and in the UK for the very first time).
Throughout her life, Sonia Delaunay was obsessed with colour and abstraction. Together with her husband and fellow artist Robert Delaunay, Sonia developed Simultanism. The term stems from the discoveries of French scientist Michel Eugène Chevreul who identified the phenomenon of ‘simultaneous contrast’ in which colours look different depending on the colours placed adjacent to them.
Sonia made these contrasting colour juxtapositions into her life’s work, taking the principles of Simultanism beyond painting with her fashion designs. In the 1920s she opened her own atelier creating a fashion line that was hugely successful. The fashion section is easily the best part of the show. Whilst Sonia Delaunay’s art can get a little repetitive, she had a long painting career with not much in the way of evolution, her fashion is fascinating. She designed everything from curtain fabrics to bathing costumes and from silk scarves to embroidered coats. Brilliant stuff.
Sonia Delaunay died in 1979 having lived a remarkably full and varied 94 years. “I have done everything. I have lived my art,” she said of herself. You have to agree. She did indeed.
Photographs © The London Art File
Open until 9th August 2015
Sunday – Thursday 10am–6pm
Friday and Saturday 10am–10pm
The EY Exhibition
The Eyal Ofer Galleries, Level 3