Sonia Delaunay

Contrastes simultanés

Sonia Delaunay was born in 1885 to a poor Ukrainian family and was adopted at a young age by a wealthy uncle in St. Petersburg.  This move opened up a world of opportunity, creative growth and artistic experimentation that set into motion a path that would lead her to becoming a game-changer in art, design and feminism.

Having survived two World Wars, Sonia Delaunay co-founded the French avant-garde movement Orphism with her husband, the painter Robert Delaunay, where she applied her non-traditional approach to art and design.  According to the New York Times critic Roberta Smith Orphism was seen as an “especially radiant French brand of Cubo-Futurism”.


Sonia and Robert Delaunay, 1923

Sonia Delaunay in her studio, Paris 1920s


Delaunay would often describe her works as “exercises in color”.  The abstract, colorful, geometric compositions that often made up her work became popular themes for the time.  This new direction in art could soon be seen across the fine and commercial art worlds, including theater design and fashion.

In her own words, the weight of the Contrastes simultanés series lay in “the pure colors becoming planes and opposing each other by simultaneous contrasts for the first time new constructed forms not through chiaroscuro but through the depth of color itself."

Executed in 1913, Contrastes simultanés incorporates these ideas and is of the last in the series dating from the period when the artist was testing color theory and linguistics, influenced by her new friend and associate, the poet Blaise Cendrars.

Contrastes simultanés, watercolor on paper, 1913

Contrastes simultanés incorporates new ideas that would continue to span modern and contemporary art movements. Here Delaunay incorporated text and abstract form as a means of simultaneously blending the spoken word and emotion evoked by color into an expressive work of art. Her practice of simultaneity techniques would go on to inspire generations of artists, including leaders of abstract art such as Wassily Kandinsky, Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari among others. Given Delaunay’s ability to push unlimited creative boundaries, it comes as no surprise that the artist was the first living female artist to have her own retrospective at the Louvre in 1964.

In her own words, the weight of the Contrastes simultanés series lay in “the pure colors becoming planes and opposing each other by simultaneous contrasts for the first time new constructed forms not through chiaroscuro but through the depth of color itself" (quoted in Programme du théâtre des Champs-Elysées, 1926-1927). It can be argued that Contrastes simultanés is one of the first examples of abstract art.

Colour is the skin of the world.

Sonia Delaunay