Sonia Delaunay was born in 1885 into a poor Jewish family in the Ukrainian village of Gradizhske and adopted by her wealthy aunt and uncle in Saint Petersburg at an early age. There she had a
privileged upbringing and was introduced to the art museums and galleries around Europe, before taking up studies at the Académie de la Palette in Paris. Her early work as a painter was influenced by
the vibrant colours of the Post-Impressionists and the Fauves, yet it was not until her marriage to the artist Robert Delaunay in 1910 and their subsequent founding of Orphism that she became one of
the central figures in the 20th century avant-garde movement.
The term Orphism derives from the legendary Greek musician Orpheus and was coined by the poet and art critic Apollinaire as a way of highlighting the harmonious qualities of colour sought by its
founders. The sense of movement and rhythm created by certain simultaneous contrasts of colour became Sonia Delaunay’s principal concern, not just on the canvas but through textiles, clothes,
interior design and accessories – all of which allowed her to explore her aesthetic theories while fusing modernist art and daily life in an unprecedented way.
After spending some time in Portugal in 1914 Delaunay and her family lived in Madrid. Here she met Sergei Diaghilew for whose ‘Ballets Russes’ she designed the costumes and the stage sets. She
returned to Paris after the end of World War I, where she made the sets for Dadaist plays and films. In 1925 she opened Maison Delaunay, the same year that the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et
Industriels Modernes in Paris finally brought her designs to a wider audience. Maison Delaunay was visited by the likes of Gloria Swanson, the actress, and the heiress Nancy Cunard. Delaunay’s
designs were so much a part of the everyday that she even decorated a Citroen B12.
After the invasion of Paris, the Delaunays fled to Montpellier where, her husband, stricken with cancer, died in 1941. On her own for 38 more years, Sonia Delaunay continued to push the boundaries of
decorative art, while overseeing the legacy of her husband. In 1964 she became the first living female artist to be given a retrospective at the Louvre in Paris. She died in 1979 aged 94, happy
for having, in her words, ‘lived my art’.