This month I’m studying artist Sonia Delaunay. I share almost daily bits about the artist over on Patreon so check that out.
Sonia Delauney was born November 14, 1885 in Odessa, Russia which is now part of the Ukraine. She was named Sarah Élievna Stern. She was the youngest of three children in a Jewish family.
In 1892, at the age of 7 she was sent to her (maternal) uncle Henri Terk and his wife Anna in St. Petersburg. She adopted the name Sofia Terk but was always referred to as Sonia. She grew up visiting museums and galleries and spent summers in Europe.
Sonia's uncle's house was filled with books, paintings, and music. She was taken to museums and galleries in Europe. She was given her first set of paints by the German Impressionist Max Liebermann, who was a family friend. In high school, her teacher noted her drawing skills and suggested she attend art school.
At the age of 18 she left St. Petersburg to attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe, Germany.
After two years in Germany, Sonia moved to Paris to study at the Academie de la Palette. In February 1906, she met German art collector and gallerist Wilhelm Uhde. On their first meeting he showed her his paintings by Derain, Vlaminck, Braque and Dufy, Pablo Picasso and Henri Rousseau. They became fast friends.
On December 5, 1908 she married him. Wilhelm was gay and the marriage was a cover for his relationship with his ‘butler,' Constant. Sonia also had reason to marry. Her family insisted that she return home and her uncle refused to giver her her inheritance until she was married. Their marriage ensured that they couldn’t force her to come back home. She also benefitted from Wilhelm’s art connections.
Despite it being a marriage of convenience, the pair shared a bond. In his memoirs Wilhelm wrote:
"She was intelligent, generous, open-hearted. She knew about pictures and was herself a gifted painter. She, too, wished to have a… serious relationship of the mind."
The couple threw glamorous dinner parties, inviting many of Uhde’s art-world contacts including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Henri Rousseau. Through Wilhelm she was introduced to the Fauves and saw the work of Derain, Matisse, etc.
Berthe Delaunay, mother of Robert Delaunay, was a regular visitor to Wilhelm’s gallery, sometimes accompanied by her outspoken son, Robert Delaunay. Sonia met Robert Delaunay in early 1909. They became lovers in April of that year and her divorce was finalized in August 1910. Sonia was pregnant and she and Robert married on November 15, 1910. Their son Charles was born on January 18, 1911.
Sonia was already an established artist. Wilhelm had arranged exhibitions for her and she showed alongside Picasso, Braque, and Derain. Her first solo artistic exhibition was held in 1908 at the Montparnasse Gallery
But when she married Robert she stopped painting and turned to needlework and embroidery instead. She took on a supporting role to Robert’s work as an artist.
One article I read describes that she "realised instantly that his creativity was more fragile than her own, and that she would need to take a step back if he were to thrive." -source
Influenced by the Fauves, here’s a look at more of her early work before Robert: