B. November 14, 1885 D. December 5, 1979 Birthplace: Gradzihsk, Ukraine Award: Legion d'Honneur, 1975
Sonia Delaunay, born Sophie Stern, moved to Paris in 1905 to study art at the Academie de la Palette. At the turn of the twentieth century, Delau-nay, with her husband Robert, was at the forefront of a new artistic movement, Orphism, an early form of abstract painting. Delaunay's interest in collage inspired her to combine fine and applied arts and to experiment with color and texture combinations in fabric designs. The tubular silhouette of women's fashions in the teens and twenties provided the perfect canvas for Delaunay to experiment with geometric shapes, electrified colors, textural variations, and formal and informal balance—all combined in a single garment. The motifs and colors enveloped the body, and her clothing became a moving painting.
Delaunay began experimenting with apparel design as early as 1913, but it was the Russian Revolution of 1917 that forced her entrance into the apparel business. The Delaunays had supplemented their income as artists by renting out their apartments in Russia, which were now nationalized under communism. To support her family, Delaunay opened Casa Sonia in Madrid, Spain, where they were living during World War I, to sell clothing and accessories. In 1921 she closed her store and returned to Paris where she designed for private clients as well as couturiers such as Jacques Doucet, Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel, and Jacques Heim.
In 1923 a Lyons silk manufacturer commissioned textile designs from Delaunay, and she opened her own textile workshop, L'atelier Simultane, in 1924 to produce her designs. She began experimenting with embroidery and developed the point du jour or point populaire stitch, which was done with wool or silk thread in gradient colors mixed with black and white. Delaunay's textile designs brought drama to the simple silhouettes of the 1920s; however, the color combinations and motifs were lost in the structural details and bias draping of 1930s apparel, which broke the plane of the fabric, interrupting the textile design. By 1933 Delaunay was designing very few textiles for apparel.
Over her lifetime, Delaunay painted; designed clothing, fabrics, carpets, dishware, posters, automobiles, playing cards, and home furnishings; and created the first neon sculpture. She designed costumes for Serge Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes production of Cleopatre in London in 1918 and costumes for the Barcelona Opera Company for Aida and Amneris in 1920. After the 1930s, Delaunay slowly stopped designing and began mounting exhibits of her and her husband's art in museums and galleries throughout the world to document their impact on the art of the twentieth century.
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