Did Sonia Delaunay have sacrificed her career for Robert? This question has haunted me since the opening of the exhibition at Tate Modern. My friend M. agreed with me but Juliet Bingham, co-curator of the exhibition, disagreed.
The exhibition begins insightfully, tracking Sonia’s journey from expressionism and fauvism, accompanied by Russian folklore, to abstract art. Simultanism, developed by her and her husband, followed chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul’s colour theory. Van Gogh did the same, seeking optical effects by placing specific colours next to each other. It is unclear to me whether Robert or Sonia painted the first the abstract disc and circular forms. Perhaps they did it jointly. In any case, it certainly has an effect and I felt the circles creating noise, like an electrical buzz.
Sonia also applied Simultanism to her life, right down to the clothes she wore. Sonia Delaunay’s diversification into fashion, unfortunate in my view, was motivated by the need to generate income for the couple. The biggest room at Tate is dedicated to fashion and design. I thought that room would be the kind of exhibition room that gives the visitor a breather. Unfortunately, there is just too much for that – I assume in the spirit of “touche-a-tout” Sonia.
She may have enjoyed her fashion venture as it became successful but I felt she sacrificed her art to Robert, who stayed focused on painting. Sonia didn’t break out as a painter in her own right until after Robert’s death.
She organized his retrospective in 1946. Two years later her own work was included in the group exhibition Tendencies in Abstract Art at the gallery of Denise René. She was, finally, an example for younger artists and rightfully recognized as a pioneer.
Juliet Bingham said that critics saw Sonia as the creative person in the couple, with Robert the theorician. This confirmed my thoughts: either Tate’s exhibition is not representative of Sonia Delaunay’s painting, or Sonia Delaunay could not get out from under the shadow of her husband.
Sonia Delaunay is at Tate Modern until 9 August 2015.