Monday, November 23, 2020

What the heck is "The Académie?"

 "The Académie" sounds, to me, like a graphic novel about a school for angsty mutant artists run by an eccentric megalomaniac, but in fact it was the elite institution that controlled art and good taste in France during the 1700s and 1800s. It replaced the Italian Baroque apprentice/guild systems of the 1500s- 1600s and was eventually abandoned in the early 1900s with the advent of modern art. The Académie produced juried exhibitions called "Salons" which held the key to fame and commissions (and scandal). Other European countries modeled their Academic systems on that of France as well. When people say, "Academic style," they mean clean-lined, idealistic (a bit staged), slightly grandiose, and shaded with soft rich shadows. In reality, though, several styles flourished in the Académie at any given time, but the Académie's famous ideological battles are why everyone thinks of Ingres and David. Eventually with the rise of Impressionism, cubism and Dada, no one looked to the Académie any longer as the leaders in art or good taste.

There were academies all over Europe since at least Renaissance times, but before it became a "system" in the 1700s most artists were involved in the guild system of the Baroque era. 

The Old Guild System

Guilds and trade unions engaged in rigorous gatekeeping, both for training and for running a business. Today we might wonder why a painter would even need a guild; after all if you really wanted to you could just put up an easel in the corner of your living room, buy some paints and how-to books, and print up some business cards. But that's all thanks to the Industrial Revolution which changed painting in the late 1800s.

Before that artists were stuck in the studio creating every paint color from scratch with pigments that came from dirt, plants, animals and rocks. Perfecting the texture with binding agents an solvents. Building wooden canvases and other supports, preparing the surface, varnishing the finished pieces. Once an artist found a good paint recipe they kept it secret, only telling their assistants. That's why certain Baroque artists were famous for signature colors, like Titian for his copper-haired muses. An artist might also hoard a secret technique.

Some of Rosa Bonheur's supplies as she left them in the 1890s (image via). You can see the mix of modern paint tubes which came about after the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s, as well as more traditional bottles of pigments, solvents and binders. I can see at least four types of yellow pigment here; some were common while others were quite rare. Pigments might have different physical properties like opacity or mix well with one type of red vs another, for example. That's why an artist needed more than red, yellow and blue, which is why today the shades still have names like "cadmium red," "alizarin crimson" "scarlet lake" and "rose madder." They aren't merely poetic, and those shades today can contain the real pigments or synthetic versions, but are still used in the same way. One type of yellow, "gamboge,"  comes from a tree in Southeast Asia and its availability varied according to shortages caused by faraway wars. This makes it possible to reliably date a painting based on its use (I learned that from Elementary, thanks Moriarty). Large doses can also be fatal (many paint pigments are poisonous), which is why van Gogh tried to eat yellow paint while mentally unwell. Each pigment has a very particular backstory and would be an interesting way to approach studying history.

And these artists didn't do it all by themselves. A studio required staff, so they took trainees under their wing. Some of them were apprentices and protegées who would eventually inherit the studio or set up their own; a protegée was meant to carry on the reputation of a master artist, not to compete. An artist's wife and family members might also assist or paint parts of the image, uncredited.

All of this cost money, like opening a new restaurant would nowadays. It was a full-time job (with taxes to pay) so the studio needed patrons such as wealthy clergy and nobility, perhaps a successful merchant. Even if the studio was part of a convent staffed entirely by artist-nuns (and that did happen), they still had to get the permission and financial backing from religious higher-ups. Then there were expensive props and supplies, models to pay. Some artists even showcased how much money they were spending (i.e. showing off the wealth of the client) by making paint colors from semiprecious stones, like blue from lapis lazuli. 

An artist also had to be a terrific sales-person and networker. Back then artists were regarded as skilled craftsmen, like carpenters. But due to their efforts artists were just beginning to be seen as creative intellectuals who could be both respected and allowed to hob-nob and even marry into elite social circles. This would pave the way for the caché of the Académie in the 1700s.

Artists formed guilds or unions to protect business where aspiring artists had to be elected to membership and then pay dues. Most of these guilds denied membership to all women and Jews, with some exceptions-- usually women who had inherited a studio. Women could also be kicked out of guilds (and even punished by authorities in some places) if they studied or painted nudes, which was a major impediment to figurative work (and the highest paid, most respected commissions). This continued long into the Academic era.

Guilds formalized the apprenticeship process. Apprenticeship was also frequently denied to women, or it was so disreputable and vulnerable to predators that women could not safely participate. (Despite this there were a shocking number of women artists in Baroque times, working in all styles and financially successful.) After apprenticeship, when a painter was ready to apply to the guild they created the best painting they possibly could to show they had mastered painting; this was submission was called a "masterpiece." Which, of course, is where the modern term comes from.

The Painter in his Studio, by Adriaen Jansz van Ostade, 1663. (image via) Think about how much this would cost in 1663. Big windows, lots of space (enough for an entire family), supplies, props, references (books were luxuries).

It's only natural, then, that most studios also functioned as schools. Multiple apprentices would apply year after year. To supplement income many artists would also give drawing lessons to people like craftsmen, scientists and wealthy young ladies. Schools and city-states each developed their own styles and practices, so today we still say "the [x] school" when referring to a particular style.

The Académie

Schools eventually evolved into state-run academies. This gave the nobility more centralized involvement in what had previously been a piecemeal system by artists for artists. Art instructors leveraged this involvement to access high society, Enlightenment resources such as libraries and expert lecturers on philosophy and anatomy, and a certain high-minded caché. They secured sponsorship to send their most promising students abroad to study the old masters in Rome (the legendary and coveted Prix de Rome) and in Amsterdam. Whereas an old-fashioned apprentice was considered a craftsman and a businessman, someone trained at an academy was considered an intellectual gentleman.

King Louis XIV (the "Sun King" who established Versailles) organized the Académie des beaux-arts in Paris in the 1660s as part of his larger effort make France internationally famous for luxury goods. Paris was considered a cultural backwater at the time compared to Rome or Madrid, but by the late 1700s foreign students were traveling to Paris to learn, a phenomenon which would peak in the 1850s-1930s.  

The Academic curriculum was highly structured. Prospective students had to first pass a difficult entrance exam. Then those who were admitted set about learning to draw (not paint). They were given old drawings and etchings of paintings to copy, then if the teacher approved they moved on to sketching plaster busts and sculptures. With the teacher's approval male students would then move on to figure drawing class with live models. They considered painting secondary to drawing as interior decorating is to architecture, so it was only toward the end of the program or post-graduate that students learned painting by copying works at the Louvre and assisting older artists. Students didn't have much wiggle room in terms of style and content. 

An illustration c. 1880 of students drawing from plaster sculptures (image via). This was likely after Académie Colarossi in Paris finally opened its doors to female students in the Belle Epoque and women came pouring in from foreign countries to study. Some Academies in other nations followed suit.

The Académie also served as gatekeeper for professional success. They hosted juried Salons in which the accepted paintings were shown at the aristocratic social event of the season. Anyone could submit paintings, not just Academic students. Paintings were crammed together on the walls all the way up to the ceiling, so the Academic juries also controlled who got top billing by placing their favorite painters' work at eye level. Those who did well in Salons were almost guaranteed a good career. Being critically panned was a disaster. The Académie also offered assistance to working professionals such as studio space, research materials, travel funds, artistic community and access to powerful clientele; and of course cushy teaching positions. A professional artist could ultimately be elected into Academic membership, to become one of the celebrated gatekeepers who juried Salons and the like. While it was possible to make money and achieve fame outside the Academic System, it was certainly more difficult.

However many artists in the 1700s and 1800s still studied with individual professionals rather than at the Academies. Many simply could not afford Academic tuition or had not been accepted; women were usually barred from formal study. Others still preferred the art style of the individual with whom they trained or preferred the one-on-one style of teaching. Many artists mixed the two, obtaining training first from a middling local professional, then apprenticing to a more renowned artist, then taking courses at the academies, and then perhaps even studying with another artist after that. Thus many professional artists were also prolific teachers; in the 1700s nearly everyone seemed to study under someone who studied under Fragonard; in the 1800s all roads led back to David, Delacroix and Ingres (and to Rosa Bonheur for women). Most of the women I'm profiling for my Inktober project learned this way.

Allegory and Idealization

Simply put, allegory is when you paint a hot lady with a paintbrush and say, "this is a picture of The Arts." Allegory is similar to a symbol, but the way the Académie used it it almost always boiled down to a pretty woman who represented Peace, Painting, The Nation or some other abstract concept, though sometimes it was a horse that represented War or a hooded skeleton that represented Death. The system was based on the concept of Platonic ideals. 

Plato wrote that the ideal is the ultimate imaginary form of something on which all inherently flawed real-life versions are built. Platonic spaghetti, for instance, is that perfect ideal spaghetti in your mind; the real spaghetti you cook will never live up to it. Therefore in Academic art, when they show a woman holding a paintbrush meant to represent the Platonic ideal of Painting, she isn't a realistic warts-and-all portrayal. She is the most idealized and generic woman possible, holding the most generic possible paintbrush; bonus points if her clothes are from an unspecific era or Greek, her pose is unrealistic or even defying physics, and her environment is stagey or anachronistic. The whole point is that she isn't a realistic individual in the real world. The more flawless the woman, the more flawless the concept. Furthermore the 18th century viewer would know that she is the allegory of Painting because of her gold chain, green clothes and black hair; such details of each common allegory had been standardized since Baroque times, though artists didn't always include every detail by the book. The artist and viewer were expected to have a thorough education in allegorical conventions as well as mythology, history and art history. Allegorical art (usually history painting) was intellectual art for smart people.

Nowadays we'd see an Academic allegorical portrayal and ask, "whoa, why is her spine like that?" or "why isn't she gripping the brush tightly enough to actually hold it," or "why is her boob hanging out?" These unrealistic things were all meant to clue the viewer in to the fact that she's an allegory, not a real lady. The flawlessness of the woman's beauty can also throw us for a loop because beauty standards then were very different from today, and even then they varied by time and place. They might vary still more depending on whether the artist's patron preferred a particular type of body. 

Artists might also refer to ancient Greek ideals of beauty, which followed a mathematic formula right down to the length and width of the toes. The ancient Greeks were usually sculpting gods and goddesses, so they used "perfect physical beauty" to convey the idea of the supernatural. Nor was any ancient Greek goddess just a slip of a thing, physically; the Goddess was meant to be powerful and plentiful and her body reflected that in skeletal breadth and fleshiness. Those ideas certainly affected the Academic practice of allegory. While in 18th and 19th century portraiture you often see dainty women with impossibly dainty rib cages and big bobble heads, in history painting the allegorical women usually adhered more closely to Greek standards.

Despite these high-minded ideas, art was still a business that was subject to the waxing and waning of fashions. The flawless allegorical woman naturally blended with the more earthbound requests of patrons and nobility, resulting in so countless portrayals of Venus and allegories of Vanity or Beauty who looked suspiciously like someone's naked mistress. By 1790 Versailles looked like it had an unchecked infestation of cherubs. Idealism became a pervasive element of Academic art no matter the subject; they just felt it made a better painting. Ingres, for example, was disgusted by anatomy (even though he was more than capable of painting anatomically realistic figures); he preferred to paint stylized people. 

"This Year Venuses Again... Always Venuses!" a cartoon by Honoré Daumier, 1864, depicting two annoyed ladies at a Salon exhibit. (image via).

The opposite of idealism was called "realism." Nowadays most people use the term to mean something looks photo-realistic, but in most of art history it means not idealizing things. Realists painted real people, warts and all, doing real things in the real world. The Impressionists, for example, were realists, showing normal people doing everyday things with no allegorical pretense at all-- a person rowing a boat was just that. Other realists included social agendas, creating unflinching looks at poverty, suffering and the uglier side of life, while others swore allegiance to modernity. 

Degas, for instance, was a promising young student in the Academic style who won the Prix de Rome and then decided he wanted to find "the movement of the Greeks" in the modern world instead of in history painting. Manet was another realist whose famous Olympia was extremely shocking-- not because she was more naked or sexy than Academic nudes (she was actually posed  less overtly than many arch-backed Venuses of the time), but because she was too realistic. She was short with realistic proportions, wearing a modern necklace, and looking the viewer dead in the eye instead of existing in some fantasy land where she can't see you. 

The Birth of Venus, by Alexandre Cabanel, 1863. (image via). This is idealized Academic style: no visible brushstrokes, a physically impossible scenario (reclining on water, flying babies), mythological characters, a stagey artificial composition, a classically proportioned woman lit by soft directional studio lighting, and a vague allusion to the Renaissance masters. They were really into tall women back then with long fleshy limbs, breasts shaped like meringues and slightly small heads for their bodies. Characters in Jane Austen novels (1810s) always felt bad about themselves because they weren't tall enough.

Olympia, by Édouard Manet, 1863. (image via). This is realist, not Academic style or idealized. She's probably meant to be a prostitute (the black cat and accessories would have tipped off Victorian viewers; "Olympia" was also a common pseudonym for prostitutes to use as well as being an insolent reference to the Academic obsession with Greek mythology). This painting was famously shocking. People usually attribute that to her being a prostitute, but that isn't true. If she'd been a Mary Magdalene or a character from classical Greek mythology or ancient history who was prostitute or mistress, that would've been totally fine. If she'd had the standard classical body shape, softly shaded from one direction like studio lighting, fainting away or gazing into a mirror, even looking over one shoulder at the viewer so as to passively beckon him into her fantasy world, it also would've been fine. The problem was her realism and modernity. She's short with teardrop breasts and a wide Parisian face, demonstrating that the Academic ideal has no power to define "beauty." She's in modern Paris, where Black people exist just because (in Academic art they never painted Black people without a narrative reason, like being one of the Three Kings of Orient visiting Jesus, or as part of the mise-en-scène to place Cleopatra in ancient Egypt, or to allegorically represent Africa; Black people didn't just randomly show up, living their lives). To underscore the departure from tradition, Manet used a lighting style that created an outline effect, which criticized even the hallowed drawing methods of the Académie. Manet and his Olympia both made the Victorian gentleman viewer feel inadequate: she intimidated instead of putting on a coquettish show, confronting the viewer/john with sex like "I don't have all day," while Manet made the viewer feel inadequate by rendering all his fine traditions and allegorical knowledge irrelevant, trampling all over the boundaries of his comfort zone of "once upon a time." 

When we see artistic details that challenged Academic tradition, it can be hard not to think "yeah but... it's just a shadow? So what, why were they losing their minds?" But when you remember the history of the Académie it's easier to understand why these things were truly threatening. Artists used the Académie to social climb from craftsmen to gentleman-intellectuals, while nobility used the Académie to control the arts. It upheld a classist society and created an identity that placed modernity neatly into history, with noble purpose and a common goal. Breaking with tradition was an upset to elitism, monarchy and tradition. Nowadays we see Impressionism as prosaic, but back then it posed a nihilistic threat.

Color vs. Line

Since the Académie was in charge of art it became the obvious battleground for defining art and determining its future. There were two big ideological camps: the poussinistes (fans of Poussin) versus the rubenistes (fans of Rubens), which in the 1800s evolved into the Neoclassicists versus the Romantics. 

The Poussinistes and Neoclassicists esteemed drawing, line and form over color. They wanted to create figures so beautifully shaded and crisply defined that they could be statues ready to be plucked right off the canvas. Their figures had weight, balance and completion, often at the expense of implied movement. This stiff, highly finished style naturally lent itself to the calm rational ideals of Neoclassicism. Color was also an afterthought, and it belonged within the lines of the form. Color was best in one simple tone shaded from light to dark. If you've ever seen old black and white photos that have been hand-colored, poussiniste paintings had that quality. "Line" usually meant crisp edge, "form" meant smooth shading. Examples of poussinistes were David and Ingres. 

My Eyes Are Up Here, by Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres. Just kidding! This is called Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1864. (image via). You can see the even weight distribution and musculature, small head and statuesque profile typical of Greek-inspired Academic figures. Ingres often played fast and loose with anatomy to make figures more idealized, but this example is fairly natural looking. Notice also that the background looks flat like a stage set. You can tell from the shadows that Oedipus was drawn in the studio and then placed outdoors, a common Academic practice. They knew how to paint people under different lighting conditions, because the Dutch and Flemish masters of the 1600s had had a field day with lighting effects. But the soft full shading of the studio was part of the idealization process. Remember, drawing came before painting. Concept came before reality. Notice also how Oedipus's skin is just light and dark shades of tan and the rocks are light and dark ochre. Form came first, color second. Ingres hated the work of Rubens.

The Rubenistes, meanwhile, valued color, expressive brushwork, and movement. They wanted dancers to really look like they were dancing and clouds to really look like they were sparkling, so they sacrificed crisp edges and finished brushwork for expressive movement and complex blending of colors. This style naturally lent itself to the whimsical Rococo era, and then to the intense emotions and violent passions of the later Romantics. Examples of Rubenistes included Fragonard and Vigée Le Brun; Romantics included Delacroix and Courbet. 

Liberty Leading the People, by Eugène Delacroix, 1830. (image via). This history painting is unusual for the Académie in that the event was so recent (the French Revolution forty years prior) and the corpses and civilians are unusually realist; their clothes are near-contemporary and they are more awkward than idealized in death. However his Liberty provides an excellent example of allegory. She's timeless, sculpturally beautiful, and dressed unrealistically. The brushwork has been kept loose, especially in the clouds of smoke but also in the folds of the fabric. The child is silhouetted but not sharply outlined. No one's body is particularly well lit or well composed from head to toe, but the composition taken all together creates the impression of excitement, adrenaline and forward movement. This composition, while not especially colorful, shows how colors are more complex, composed of layers of contrasting shades (the blue and orange smoke especially) that help the color come alive.

The line vs. color debate also took the form of claiming that drawing was superior to painting, that drawing was an intellectual exercise while painting was more craftsmanlike and superficial. The painting side pointed out how empty a painting would be without any emotional response and that color and brushwork instinctively stirred emotion. They also believed it could allow more people to enjoy art, not only the educated and intellectually inclined. The drawing side seemed to get the upper hand, though. This helps to explain why, when the painterly Impressionists came along who cared more about the placement and color of a hay bale than about the yearnings of anyone's soul, they managed to enrage both sides. 

Another lively debate was between those who learned from nature versus those who learned from older paintings. The Nature side eventually was fullfilled by the Barbizon school beginning in the early-mid 1800s. They were among the first plein aire painters (i.e. they painted outdoors, or sketched outdoors and finished up in the studio). They often kept colors fresh and brushstrokes loose, but were far more restrained than the later Impressionists. They usually painted landscapes but often depicted people in rural genre scenes as well. Rarely did they venture into history painting but they created heroic rural scenes that were monumental in novel ways, usually to great acclaim. The Barbizon school were respected and accepted but weren't part of the Académie. 

Of course not everyone took a side; many brave souls even spoke up to point out that most great art involves both line and color. Many artists took inspiration from both sides, the best example being Bouguereau, the last great superstar of the Academic era. 

Psyche, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1895. (image via). Bouguereau said line and color were the same thing. He used crisp outlines and full shading but also complex colors which seemed to sparkle. The skin here isn't just light and dark tan, the purple isn't flat. He blended his brushstrokes to create impeccable detail for every feather and ruffle, but allowed his painterliness to show through, using airy landscapes and flowing fabrics to create movement. He also took the best of what the Barbizon school had to offer; his outdoor figures really look like they're bathed in natural light (though this particular painting doesn't show his best lighting effects). He was one hell of an incredible painter with a natural sophistication and ease to his style; unfortunately his subject-matter was a cautionary tale of what happens when you blend empty eroticism with saccharine pretentiousness. Still, like Christopher Nolan movies or the British Royal Family, it isn't so much the content of Bouguereau's work that annoys me so much as its fans. Ugh, Victorians. 

The Genre Hierarchy

The final weird and wonderful thing you need to know about Academic art is that they ranked the genres from best to worst, smart to stupid. History painting was best, then genre painting, then portraiture, then landscape, then still life. History paintings were sometimes monumental and could be ancient Greek scenes (real or mythological), Biblical scenes, ancient events or allegorical depictions of ideas (so, an image of Peace doting on France or Sculpture inspiring a sculptor would count as history painting). It was the most respected and well-payed. 'Genre painting,' by the way, means slice of life scenes. It could be a shepherdess in a field, lovers flirting by a fence, a maid carrying a jug, nuns nursing the sick.  

The Intervention of the Sabine Women, by Jacques-Louis David, 1798 (image via). While some history paintings were relatively simple, many others (like this one) were monumental paintings with complex compositions and lots of drama. This depicts a chaotic event in Roman mythology when two neighboring cities are at war and the women, caught in the middle between fathers and husbands, beg the men to stop fighting. David painted this as an obvious call for France's people to come together when regimes changed violently after the Revolution. History paintings often were masked commentary on current events. David had previously tried to create a non-ancient history painting of current events as they unfolded (the beginning of the French Revolution), but by the time he got halfway done the situation had completely reversed itself. That's partially why painters so often used ancient history as commentary on current events. It also helped them avoid too much backlash; they could always claim, at the end of the day, that it had nothing to do with current politics. Here you can see that each figure is fully posed and beautifully lit; each could stand alone as its own painting. David has arranged them in a line like figures in an ancient Roman frieze. David was a Neoclassicist and the drama in this painting comes from its crisply delineated poses and intellectual references rather than expressive brushwork or complex color.

Women were typically discouraged from history painting specifically, not only because they weren't supposed to study anatomy (but they often did anyway) but because it was considered presumptuous for a woman to teach an intellectual lesson and unfeminine to be so ambitious. Some women did it anyway of course but they more often found willing clients in portraiture and still life, thus creating a cycle of disrespect, wherein the genre was respected less because it was practiced by ladies, and was practiced by ladies because it was less respected. Women sometimes broke the glass ceiling through sheer audacity and talent, but more often they found a way to do genre painting and history painting by focusing on maternal and moralistic themes-- winning support by "staying in their lane" where they could realize ambitious projects but still find willing patrons. 


Nowadays we expect realism in art and media, but we still use the Academic tradition of the Platonic Ideal as expressed via heavy fantasy. Perfume ads, for example, use impossibly beautiful people in timeless fantasy scenarios to express the abstract idea of scent. Conceptual allegory, meanwhile, has become the purview of political cartoonists. They usually label the concept that the figure represents (like a clown car labeled "Trump's Approach to the Refugee Crisis" with the emergent clowns labeled "Private Prison Industry," "GOP Re-election Strategy" and "The NRA.") But we don't need labels for common modern allegorical figures; we recognize 'Patriotism,' 'the Democratic Party,' 'Old-Fashioned Ideals of Femininity' and 'the Mainstream Media,' among many others. Meanwhile memes that replicate the same group of figures with ever-changing labels like "my brain" vs "my ability to manage my time" could be considered an incredibly lazy modern version of Academic allegory; they get popular when they hit on an abstract universal feeling in a novel way and manage to express some otherwise embarrassing, forbidden or peculiar concepts.

After the advent of modernism, Academic style fell ever further into disrepute. Critics lined up to devalue it and antiestablishmentarians like the Dadaists held it in contempt. However avant-garde artists still took inspiration from Academic art. Many of the leading modernists of the 1910s and 20s had themselves studied in the Academic system. Countless modernists were inspired by Ingres. Abstract artists admired his flattening of the picture plane while surrealists admired his eerie and erotic stylization. Delacroix and Courbet continued to inspire.  

In the 1950s mega-critic Clement Greenberg declared all Academic painting to be kitsch (gasp!). But it's making a comeback in roundabout ways. Academic drawing and painting techniques are becoming popular again, visually dazzling a public which has spent the last century secretly resenting abstract art. Other contemporary painters still use allegory but there's no central standard; in today's multicultural, pluralistic world everyone is expected to invent it on their own using unusual symbols loaded with personal significance like they're Joseph freaking Beuys. On one had that's nice because it isn't so rigid and it opens space for discovery, but on the other it can be baffling as a viewer. Artists will say things in interviews like, "oh yes, I became fascinated by the character of the clown who is turned into a two-headed ox from [obscure Italian opera] so I used him to explore the way we recontextualize post-Colonialism through the lens of modern Dutch genderqueer identity." Which is... interesting but I never would have figured that out just from looking at the painting. I don't want to return to the era of Academic rigidity, but it would be nice sometimes to understand without reading the long text on the wall.





Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Inktober Day 7: Sonia Delaunay

By the time young Sonia Delaunay arrived in Paris from St. Petersburg in 1905 she was already obsessed with color and she would remain so for the rest of her life. Her brief study of classical art in Montparnasse only encouraged her to break the rules, and it was then that she made the leap to Fauvism.

Self Portrait, painted on the back of another of her portraits, Jeune finlandaise (Young Finnish Girl) by Sonia Delaunay, 1906. (image via)

In her early career before the completely abstract art and fashion design for which she is known, she was influenced by post-Impressionists like van Gogh, Rousseau and Gauguin and Fauvists like Matisse, Bonnard and Derain (then at the cutting edge of art). She was already using the intense and attractive color palette that would influence the rest of her career. 

She met a fellow Fauvist painter named Robert Delaunay in 1909 and married him in 1910. So similar were their styles that it's sometimes impossible to tell them apart. They collaborated frequently and chased the same avant-garde theories their entire lives. Our love was united in art," wrote Sonia, "as other couples are united in faith, crime, alcohol, political ambition. The passion of painting was our main link."


Sleeping Girl, by Sonia Delaunay, 1907. (image via).
Left: Portrait of Charles de Rochefort, by Sonia Delaunay, 1908 (image via). Right: Portrait of Tchouiko, by Sonia Delaunay, 1908. Guache on paper, 55 x 46 cm. (image via).

Eventually she grew frustrated that the Fauvists did not go far enough; she considered the work of Matisse to be but a compromise to the tastes of the bourgeoisie. 


Yellow Nude by Sonia Delaunay, 1908. Courtesy Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes © Pracusa (image via). This was painted toward the end of Delaunay's Fauvist period as she was growing frustrated that Fauvism didn't go far enough. Robert Delaunay wrote in his journal, “Coming from the East [i.e. Russia] to the West, it carries within itself this warmth, this classic mysticism, and instead of becoming subsumed by the West it finds its constructive expression through this friction, which amplifies the very elements of the art into a new art. After lying dormant, color has re-emerged." [paraphrased by me from a very bad translation]. Prostitutes were a common subject for the Fauvists and Cubists, but Delaunay's subject doesn't seem to be trying to catch anyone's attention or to be in any way performative. She is definitely judging the viewer. One critic wrote that Delaunay's prostitute wasn't the subject of the male gaze like in the paintings of her male peers, in that she doesn't bother looking at the viewer and her elbow closes her off, giving her some agency. I disagree, to me it looks like Delaunay is clearly more interested in portraying the interplay of color over her body than in portraying the subject herself; it's almost like looking at a tiger in a zoo who is covered in beautiful stripes but who doens't care a whit about its stripes and is just waiting for you to leave.  

After the Delaunays had a son in 1911, Sonia made him a baby blanked from scraps of cloth as was Ukranian tradition. She'd been born in the Ukraine but had moved to St. Petersburg at age five when her wealthy aunt and uncle adopted her. When her avant-garde friends saw it they exclaimed, "but it is cubist!" It was her first venture into fabric arts, which would later define her career. She began experimenting with collage to create similar effects.  

Left: Simultaneous Solar Prism by Sonia Delaunay, 1914. Collage (image via). Right: Flamenco Dancer, by Sonia Delaunay, watercolor, 1916 (image via).

This is when Sonia and Robert together developed the most important concept of their careers: simultaneous art (or simultanéisme, as the Delaunays called it). 

Simultaneous color theory had been developed independently by Goethe (yes, the author of Faust) and a chemist named Chevreul in the 1830s. Chevreul showed that colored circles appeared more or less intense (even though they were the same color) depending on which colors were surrounding the circle. He'd been hired by a tapestry company (Gobelins, who a century later would produce tapestries by Delaunay) to investigate why their threads kept suddenly fading, and he found they weren't fading at all, but simply placed next to colors that made them appear duller. This concept is called "simultaneous contrast." 

Goethe, meanwhile, took Isaac Newton's explanations of color as a physical phenomenon (i.e. light refractions) and demonstrated that a major component of the way humans experience color is due to processing and interpretation of the human brain, not to any independent physical quality of the color itself. He also noticed simultaneous contrast and pointed out that it was perceptual, not physical. Goethe defined complimentary colors (opposites on the color wheel which, combined as light, make white; combined as paint they make dark brown). He noticed how, placed side by side, they seem to vibrate and each to appear more intense. This isn't due to the colors themselves but to the human perception. The retina becomes fatigued and the brain processes the fatigue as a visual sensation. Goethe, being a poet, investigated the universal emotions produced by colors and how that was both a product of the human brain and an important component of what it feels like to see as a human being. 

While all artists of course use color theory on some level, certain artists were especially interested. Among them was J.M.W. Turner, who focused on Goethe's emotional theories of color, as well as the use of small amounts of complementary colors to increase the sensation of luminosity. But it wasnt until the Impressionists that serious attention was turned to color theory. Monet capitalized on Goethe's characterizations of the gestalt qualities of certain colors as "warm" or "cool," allowing him and othe Impressionists to revolutionize the practice of shading by using blue instead of black, allowing the coolness to stand in for value. In most Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings you see contrasting color with warm yellows and oranges representing warm sunny light and cool blues and purples representing cool shadow, while the spaces between the brushstrokes reveal hints of complementary colors that make the main colors lively and complex. 

But why the sudden interest in a century-old theory? It was largely the invention of the camera and popularization of photography that drove it. The photograph could replicate realistic imagery as people saw it, which had formerly been the sole job of the artist. What, then, was the new job of the artist? To notice in what ways humans see that cameras don't-- that is, to work with the experience of seeing. The Pointillists explored the physical sensations of sight while other modernists explored the more emotional side of seeing. They payed attention to the effects of certain shapes, rhythms and colors on the subconscious and used them to create an experience that was more about seeing and feeling than about subject-matter. For the later modernists, the peculiar visual sensation of seeing a red circle intersected by a pattern, for instance, was itself an acceptable subject for a painting.

The Delaunays went a step further than simultaneous color theory and incorporated patterns which, placed side by side, set each other off and amounted to a visual reaction that was distinct from the sum of its parts. Sonia believed that "simultanéisme" could portray the essence of movement because it caused to eye to do something. This was a departure from artists like the Italian Futurists who tried to capture a sequence of movements in a single image. Delaunay was instead trying to create images that seemed to move visually, or that created the emotional sensation of movement. 

Apollinaire (the poet) coined the term Orphism to apply to the simultaneous paintings of Sonia and Robert. Orphism as a movement was short-lived but it introduced pure color into cubism and influenced the Italian Futurists and German Expressionists as well as Marc Chagall and Vassily Kandinsky. A Russian who visited the Delaunays in 1912 delivered a series of lectures on the simultaneous which spread the idea to St. petersburg. The Delaunays themselves would remain devoted to exploring the nuances of orphism and simultanéisme their entire lives. 


Le Bal Bullier, by Sonia Delaunay, 1912-13. Oil on canvas, 50.2 x 73 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Musée d’Art Moderne. (image via). The Bullier was a popular dance hall in Paris where the tango and foxtrot were introduced to the city. The Delaunays went every Thursday and made a splash dancing the tango while wearing each her simultaneous clothes. Many other avant-garde artists frequented Bullier and word began to spread about her fashion design. Their friend Apollinaire wrote a notice in the newspaper urging people to go on Thursdays to see them. This piece perfectly illustrates how Delaunay believed simultaneous color and broken rhythmic pattern could create a sensation of movement. The contrasting color blocks of the figures are set against color blocks in the background that are the same size and contrast, giving the eye no visual rest and pusing the eye to keep continuously moving (like a dancer, obviously).


Le Bal Bullier installed in a gallery (the Tate Modern in 2015, image via). I find it helpful to see what paintings look like in real life.


An abstract painting by Sonia Delaunay, c. 1920s, I'm guessing. (image via). I cannot find any information about this piece but I like it. Sort of a mix between the "orphism" abstract paintings and the fabric design sketches.


"Beauty refuses to submit to the constraint of meaning or description." -Sonia Delaunay


Left: Rythme Coloré (Colored Rhythm), by Sonia Delaunay, 1946. © L & M SERVICES B.V. The Hague 20100623. Photo: © private collection (image via). Right: Prisms Eléctriques (Electric Prisms), 1914 Collection of Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (image via). Prisms Eléctriques was painted early in the Delaunay's investigations into Orphism, after Sonia and Robert were out walking one night and saw the newly installed electric street lamps on a boulevard in Paris. They went home and each tried to capture the ephemeral effects of the electric glow and the scattered shadows on the sidewalk. The piece on the left, Colored Rhythm, is a prettier riff on an important piece she did for a much later group exhibition in 1938 called Rhythm. Groups of circles are sliced and their halves are staggered, syncopated, along a central axis. Around that time Delaunay explored her growing interest in visual rhythm, its flow and break, as part of simultanéisme. Like many abstract artists including Kandinsky, Delaunay often spoke about her work in terms of music.

In addition to color and pattern Delaunay interpreted simultanéisme conceptually and combined different creative genres to create something new that was distinct from the sum of its parts. For instance she combined poetry and painting to create a simultaneous book about a train ride that was not an illustrated poem but a juxtaposition of color and text that was meant to work together visually to create a physical experience of reading that mimicked riding on a train. She also combined poetry with fashion, creating "dress poems" where the form of the dress was part of the poem's meaning. In her graphic design she placed individual colored letters inside blocks of other colors, changed their size and placement around the image, and used this simultaneous visual experience to influence the mood that the words created in the viewer. This is still an important basic concept in modern graphic design. 

Delaunay, while grasping the complexity of the theories and their critical implications, seemed to work intuitively, resulting in imagery that operates on simultaneous principles but is also fun and beautiful. "For me," she wrote, "the abstract and the sensual should come together. Breaking away from the descriptive line did not mean becoming sterile." About Robert, she wrote, "In [him] I found a poet. A poet who wrote not with words but with colours."


La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France, 1913, a collaborative book project by Sonia Delaunay and Blaise Cendrars (the pen name for Frédéric Louis Sauser) (image via). This looks like a pamphlet but it's a short book that unfolds accordion-style. It's a poem that recalls Cendrars's experience as a young boy riding on the Transsiberian Express with a French prostitute named Jeanne, watching the landscapes fly by while daydreaming about tropical places and ruminating about the Paris of his childhood that he was leaving behind. The text, instead of black, is printed in multi-colored stanzas that are meant to play off Delaunay's paintings. The paintings and color blocks, likewise, are meant to reflect the mood of each stanza. The long zig-zag binding and alternating placement of the stanzas on the right and left sides of the column were meant to mimic the train and its endless hypnotic movement, while Delaunay's continuous paintings along one edge are its "window."  It was considered a "simultaneous book," meaning that neither illustration nor poem stood alone but were two united visual media. They did a run of 50, with Delaunay using a stencil to hand-watercolor each book alike. All 50 books, if unfolded and placed end to end, would reach to the top of the Eiffel Tower (as their publicity promised). The book made a big impression on the avant-garde art world at the time; the physical experience of a painting/book that you interact with that morphs into something with such large, bright presence was an important contribution to artist books (a medium which has been a part of every art movement). The author, Blaise Cendrars, who considered himself a simultaneous poet, wrote in Der Sturm, "Literature is a part of life. It is not something 'special.' All of life is nothing but a poem, a movement… Here is what I wanted to say. I have a fever. And this is why I love the painting of the Delaunays, full of sun, of heat, of violence. Mme Delaunay has made such a beautiful book of colors that my poem is more saturated with light than is my life. That’s what makes me happy."


Delaunay's simultaneous costume designs for Tristan Tzara's play The Gas-Operated Heart, 1923 (image via). These costumes were directly copied and worn onstage by David Bowie on SNL in 1979 while singing The Man Who Sold The World. He wore the stiff "suit" on the left and his gangly arms poked out at the elbow and spun around in an absurd little dance. Tzara's original play was a Dadaist satire of conventional drama; it has three very short acts punctuated by songs and bizarre ballets. It's written using conventional dramatic elements that seem to have been chopped up in little pieces and rearranged so they make no sense, with dialogue made of odd bits of idioms and a vague sense of romantic love. The third act's script is just doodles of pierced hearts. Tzara considered his own play a "hoax" that only "industrialized imbiciles" could enjoy so long as they believed in the concept of "a man of genius," a notion that Tzara wanted to lampoon. According to historians the play was actually quite good as a Dadaist piece. Delaunay's boxy cardboard costumes limited the actor's movement and emphasized how two-dimenional the characters were (they were all named after body parts like Ear and Nose), helping the audience understand what Tzara was trying to say. However the 1923 production is most famous for the riot that broke out during its performance. What had happened was, the Dadaist movement was starting to split up. On one side were Tzara and a long list of famous avant-garde artists, musicians and writers (Erik Satie, Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, and Hans Arp among them), who were completely committed to absurdist nihilism (Cocteau nicknamed them "Le Suicide-Club" because he didn't see that attitude leading anywhere but ultimately burning itself out). On the other side was the influential artist and critic André Breton and his fellow artists who supported Dada's lampooning of the art establishment and bourgeois conventions, but felt complete antagonistic nihilism was too far; they needed to believe in something (they would soon go on to formally establish the Surrealist movement for this reason). So Breton hosted a Congress for the Determination and Defense of the Modern Spirit (yes really) and Tzara showed up just to make fun of it. He wrote a manifesto of Dada against Breton's Dada and many artists signed; feelings were hurt and bridges were burned. The next year Tzara organized a Dada exhibition of art, plays, music and poetry readings featuring artists who'd signed his manifesto. It was a packed house, full of artists, rubber-neckers who wanted to see the drama unfold between rival factions, and adventurous normal people who just wanted to gawk at weird art. While The Gas Heart was in progress, Andre Breton and his artist buddies showed up and went berzerk. Apparently Breton had heard that Tzara had said something derogatory about Picasso and that set him off (Tzara had said similar things about other artists including Duchamp and no one had taken offense, including Duchamp). They stormed the stage and attacked the actors, who couldn't run away or fight back because of Delaunay's boxy costumes. Then they completely trashed the theater and ripped the seats out, and at that point the audience counter-attacked. Tzara called the police and the brawl moved into the streets (still just among the avant-garde artists). Several poets were injured. After the incident Delaunay, like Edna from The Incredibles, never designed in cardboard again. The Dada movement fizzled almost immediately thereafter. Tzara's faction had distilled Dada into complete and perfect nihilism, and once they'd done that, no one could see the point of continuing.


The Delaunays moved to sunny Portugul in 1915 and lived on an allowance from Sonia's aunt and the rental income from some real estate in St. Petersburg, but the Russian Revolution of 1917 suddenly ruined the Terk family financially. Sonia, who had always been interested in the commercial and applied arts, turned her attention more seriously to income-generating creative endeavors. 

They moved to Madrid because Sonia felt they could earn a better living there commercially. She organized an interior design and simultaneous jewelry boutique called Casa Sonia in Madrid, but it never actually opened officially. Still, it won her valuable contacts in high society and she was hired to design interiors around the Madrid.

While in Madrid the Delaunays became close friends with the director of the Ballets Russes and were hired to design sets (Robert) and costumes (Sonia) for their productions, and later other ballets, plays and operas.

One of several costumes designed by Delaunay for the the 1918 London revival of the Ballets Russes's Cleopatra, 1909. Robert Delauany designed the production's sets. Her sketch, left; the costume in a museum, middle; the dancer in the role, right. I don't have sources for any of these images; they all came uncredited from Pinterest. Delaunay is one of a long list of avant-garde superstars who designed costumes or sets for various Ballets Russes productions in 1920s Europe. Based on Cleopatra's success Sonia Delaunay secured several more commissions for large-scale productions, including the Orientalist opera Aïda in Barcelona. In the ballet, two young lovers meet up in a temple in ancient Egypt. Then Cleopatra visits the temple (making a dramatic entrance in a sarcophagus and being sensuously unwrapped from mummy-like layers of multicolored veils; Delaunay used the unfolding of the colors to great effect) and the young man falls instantly way more in love with Cleopatra than the girl he came to meet. He pleads with Cleopatra to let him be with her, and she finally agrees to spend one night with him, only on the condition that he kill himself with poison the following morning (that's a hell of a way to do a one-night stand; no walks of shame for her). The girl who he'd originally met, who was there the entire time, begs him not to, then leaves. She comes back to the temple the next morning to find his poisoned corpse. O, tragedy! That might be the worst way I've ever heard of getting dumped, but it sounds like she dodged a bullet in the end. Imagine being married to such a horny idiot. Anyway the ballet was famous for its sensuality. The dancing was incredibly sexy and the original costumes from the 1909 run appeared to have lots of bare flesh (they were really skin-colored jersy inserts), which was really exciting in Edwardian times. It sparked a craze for sexy Egyptian stuff (think Theda Bara and silent films). All of those clothes and sets caught on fire during a tour of Latin America, so the Delaunays were hired to re-design something new that would still excite people a decade after the original opening. Sonia's designs were less Ziegfield Follies, more bold art deco modern. Her costumes with Robert's sets were a modern explosion of color and pattern. Delaunay's costume designs would go on to strongly influence later designers like Pierre Cardin in his mod space-age collections.

Sonia later recalled Madrid as "a breath of fresh air, a five year vacation" but the Delaunays soon became homesick for Paris. Their artistic careers had grown stagnant in Madrid, meanwhile there was a exciting Surrealism movement underway in Paris. Sonia later wrote that she considered herself French more than anything else; she was only happy in France, and above all in Paris. They moved back in 1921.


Projet de salle à manger des Delaunay, boulevard Malherbes, by Sonia Delaunay, 1924. (image via). When the Delaunays moved back to Paris in 1921 they decorated their apartment completely using Dadaist and modernist concepts. Their living example of avant-garde art being integrated into all aspects of daily life was a core value of the Dadaists (as well as Bauhaus and other modernist movements) and won them huge resepct among the cutting edge. The Delaunays invited visiting artists to contribute to the decor, including Man Ray, Hans Arp, and Marc Chagall. Their apartment's reputation also helped them secure interior design commissions around Paris.


Sonia or Robert Delaunay (or both), 1921-22, published in Der Sturm, Volume 13, Number 3, 5 March 1922. (image via). This looks so modern to me. It would look good, even edgy, in every single decade since it was made.

Sonia began selling scarves in Paris that used her painting motifs, which proved to be very popular. So she reapproached her patchwork simultaneous dress designs from the old days of the Bal Bullier and began making elegant simultaneous "dress-poems." Her attention was soon turned nearly full time to fashion design.

Only 20 or 30 years prior, fine art was strictly regimented in terms of most to least respected genres; a history painter, for instance,  might be concerned about the impact to his career if he exhibited a series of flower paintings. Yet Sonia Delaunay felt zero compuction about jumping back and forth from serious experimentation in abstract painting and performance, to decorating automobiles and designing flyers, and then back to painting, subjecting each endeavor to the same experimentation with the same concepts and thus uniting them. And it worked for her; she gained both commercial renown and avant-garde respect. Her commercial art was of course not without its detractors. Some critics lamented that her formidable talent was diverted from her worthy painting endeavors to something like fashion design; but as criticism goes, that's not too bad.

Left: a design for some fabric (image via). Middle: two models dressed in Delaunay's designs (image via). Right: Left: Design B53 (detail) for silk fabric, 1924 (image via). The suits were knitted (that was normal back then) and the robes were probably printed silks, also designed by Delaunay. She often designed with draping silks, but also incorporated a wide variety of textures and materials like embroidered wools and colored furs. In 1923 a US fabric manufacturer commissioned Delaunay to design some fabric prints for them, which was a major turning point in her career. She ended up setting up her own print shop and boutique in 1924 called The Atelier Simultané where she could control the quality of printed fabrics (mostly silks) and sell her own designs. Visitors could see the modern paintings covering the walls in the Atalier and understand better what Delaunay was trying to say with the idea of "cubist dresses" or "simultaneous dresses." The small runs of high quality fabrics and the dresses she made from it gained enormous popularity in Parisian high society, and the internatinally. Delaunay was invited to lecture at the Sorbonne in 1927 about the influence of painting on fashion.  

According to an article from the early 1920s, Delaunay was one in a long parade of "reform" clothing designers since Amelia Bloomer, followed by the unpopular "health dresses" of Germany and various others, but what set Delaunay apart was that her clothes were actually attractive. Apparently the stereotype we still have of "artist clothes" already existed back then: huge chunky jewelry, long flowing robes of odd natural materials, and unflattering silhouette. Delaunay had "an eye for beauty," in the writer's opinion, which made her "cubist dresses" much more relevant. "You know," concluded the writer-- and I'm paraphrasing-- "this idea of mixing art and fashion is weird but it makes sense. We should do more of this."

Delaunay preferred a natural (loosely fitting) 1920s silhouette as a base for her dresses. She hoped that by creating interest with the materials, textures and colors instead of silhette, clothing pieces could endure longer. It was a "slow fashion" idea in an era when silhouette had careened dramatically from one extreme to another through the previous three decades, from perky and wasp-waisted with enormous puffed sleeves, to statuesque S-curves, to calf-length drop-waisted shift dresses for boyish figures. We always read about how exciting the changes in fashions were at the time, but apparently there were also people back then who were sick of investing endless time and money in clothes only to have the ideal completely reverse itself in five years. Was Delaunay successful in slowing the race of fashion? Maybe. Her clothes do still look like 1920s pieces but they are wearable (in theory) today. They'd be ridiculously unflattering on me personally, but on a fashion model or singer they'd still look like they belong in the modern world. I would love to wear any of the fabric prints she designed, and could do so even at an office without looking odd. In fact the popular rainbow- hued watercolor theme of the Chanel Spring/Summer 2014 show (beginning around the 12:00 minute mark) is very reminiscent of Delaunay's work including her simultaneous juxtaposition of pattern.

Left: Coat made for Gloria Swanson 1923-24. Wool embroidery on wool. Private collection © Pracusa (image via). Right: a 1925 dress and fabric design by Delaunay, 1925-28. Printed silk satin with metallic embroidery. Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, Galliera. © L & M SERVICES B.V. The Hague 20100623. (image via).

Several fashion designs by Delaunay. Left (image via). Middle: Robe Poème, 1923 (image via). Right (image via). All three designs show Delaunay's love of color; when used in clothes they reminded her of the folk clothing worn at Ukranian festivals of her childhood. The dress in the center was one of Delaunay's "poem dresses," a simultaneous design which sought to unite poetry and fashion. She designed and made several, based on short poems she wrote. Delaunay spoke Russian, German, English and French (and, I assume, Ukranian) from childhood and was a lifelong devotee of poetry. She maintained close friendships with French poets Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars, among others.

Left: a Vogue cover (not illustrated by Delaunay) obviously referring to Delaunay's clothes and auto paint designs. (image via). Sonia herself did illustrate other Vogue covers in her fresh colorful style. Right: Two models wearing fur coats designed by Sonia Delaunay and manufactured by Heim, with the car belonging to the journalist Kaplan and painted after one of Sonia Delaunay’s fabrics, in front of the Pavillon du Tourisme designed by Mallet-Stevens, International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts, Paris 1925. Bibliothèque nationale de France (image and caption via).

With the Great Depression in the 1930s the demand for luxury silks and hand-embroidered art-clothes dwindled, so Sonia switched back to primarily being a painter. She was happy to do it. While she loved commercial arts, she'd had enough of running a large commerical business. She would, however, continue designing fabrics for Holland-based Metz & Co. through the 1950s.

She did still work as a graphic designer in the 1930s, most notably experimenting with electric lights as part of art and commercial design. Her illuminated advertising posters for Zig Zag cigarette papers at the Salon de la Lumiére in 1937 won an advertising prize. Unfortunately I couldn't find any photos or specific descriptions of how this may have looked.

Throughout the 1930s the Delaunays also worked together to design pavilions for several international expositions; Robert designed the pavilions and Sonia made multiple large-scale themed murals.

Étude pour voyage lointins (panneau mural pour le pavillon des chemins, le Palais de l'air), by Sonia Delaunay, 1937. (image via). This painting is a huge mural for an exposition.


Propeller (Air Pavilion) by Sonia Delaunay, 1937. Skissernas Museum, Lund, Sweden. © Pracusa 2014083 Photo: Emma Krantz (image via). This painting is huge, one of Delaunay's three wall-sized murals for a pavilion at an exposition about technology. Robert had designed some of the expo's pavilions. 


In 1941 Robert died of cancer. Sonia devoted years after his death to securing his reputation as a painter and making sure his work was shown and sold and that his contributions to art history were recorded and celebrated. A friend of the Delaunays once commented that, while they and their son were all great creators of commercial arts, not a single one of them were business people at heart, and had a hard time really selling themselves as a brand despite thier successes, implying that a truly business-minded person could have turned their skills into booming business and household names. He held as an example the fact that Sonia had to devote so much energy to making sure Robert's name was well-known in the art world. Sonia's reputation, fortunately, never dwindled in her old age. 

Their son Charles, meanwhile, grew up to become a jazz musician and in 1930 opened the first jazz club in Paris, the legendary Hot Club de France. He and his club jam sessions introduced Django Reinhardt to Stephen Grapelli. During the Nazi occupation in World War II Charles used the club and its tours to spy for the Résistance; he was interrogated but released, while two of the club's co-founders were sent to concentration camps where they were killed. That's all I read about the Delaunay family's experience during the War. Sonia Delaunay was from a Jewish family but she never considered it an important part of her identity, so I don't know if it would have been known by the French or Germans. The Terks, who had adopted Sonia from their Ukranian relatives, had been so wealthy and they'd spent so much time traveling that the antisemitic persecution faced by many in Russia had had little impact on them. Robert and Sonia had moved to Auvergne to avoid the invasion, but Robert, who already had cancer, died soon after the move because of the stress it put on him in his poor health.

After Robert died Sonia lived briefly with fellow Dadaists-turned-modernists Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Hans Arp. She collaborated with the couple many times through the 1940s and 50s. She continued painting, never abandoning Orphism (which remained surprisingly relevant and appreciated through the decades) and showed her work in major international exhibitions, group and solo, throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s. In the 1960-70s Delaunay's reputation was boosted by the art deco revival (through the lens of mod, psychadelic and "Biba girl" trends). Some of her pieces were issued as tapestries by the fabric manufacturer Gobelins while major museums mounted retrospectives of her work. When Tristan Tzara's The Gas Heart was translated and published in 1977 it included ten illustrative lithographs by Delaunay (perhaps that's where David Bowie saw the costumes he copied in his 1979 SNL appearance). In the 70s she was widely published. One of her paintings was presented from the French President to the US President, and she was named an officer of the Legion of Honor. She died in 1979. 

Here is my own drawing of Sonia Delaunay. I based it on a photograph that may be her or a model wearing her designs (which I changed slightly). I surrounded her with more designs based on photos of people in her atelier wearing her clothes and standing against her paintings and designs on the walls. And of course I wanted to place the patterns against each other because simultanéisme. Plenty of photos of Delaunay survive, so I was easily able to conjure an image of her face.