Sonia Delaunay (b Gradižsk, Ukraine, 14 November 1885 – d Paris, 5 December 1979) studied at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Karlsruhe from 1903–05 before moving to Paris to study at the Académie de la Palette. In 1910 she married her second husband, fellow artist Robert Delaunay.

In 1911 she began to experiment with abstract patterns, producing fabrics known as ‘simultaneous contrasts’ to make collages, book bindings and clothes. She spent the rest of her career exploring how forms and colours interact, particularly in fabric.

The Delaunays travelled to Berlin to exhibit at the first German Salon d’Automne at Der Strum Gallery, and at the outbreak of war in 1914 moved to Madrid and Portugal. Sonia had studied dances such as flamenco and tango before meeting Diaghilev, who helped her launch a career in design, particularly fashion. In 1917 he asked her to create costumes for the Ballets Russes revival of Cléopâtre (1918). She opened a clothes shop in Madrid in 1918 and designed costumes for the opera Aida at the Liceo Theatre, Barcelona.

Returning to Paris in 1921, Sonia received her first order for her ‘simultaneous’ textiles and by 1925 was showing her designs in her Boutique Simultanée at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs.

She continued in theatre in collaboration with her husband until his death in 1941. Sonia also began to produce costumes for film, beginning with Marcel L’Herbier’s Le Vertige in 1927. She worked in costume design until 1968, when she produced costumes and stage sets for the Ballet Théâtre d’Amiens performances of Igor Stravinsky’s Danses concertantes.

Unknown photographer
Sonia Delaunay in her design studio, Paris 1920s unknown collection

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