"In Robert Delaunay I found a poet. A poet who wrote not with words, but with colours”
- Sonia Delaunay
LONDON - This year has been a major one for the abstract art power couple Robert and Sonia Delaunay. The two ground-breaking masters of colour are both being celebrated with major retrospectives of their work in Paris. Sonia’s oeuvre is being fêted at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris with an exhibition entitled Les Couleurs de l’abstraction, the first significant retrospective of her work in the capital since 1967. Her husband meanwhile is the subject of an exciting show named Rythmes sans fin at the Centre Pompidou that showcases 80 of his works from between the wars. It is poignant and fitting that the two artists and lovers, who were inextricably linked during their lifetimes, should continue to be associated, 73 years after Robert’s death and 35 years after Sonia’s.
Robert Delaunay's Endless rythms. © photo: Jacqueline Hyde / Centre Pompidou, mnam/cci, dist. RMN-GP, © Domaine public.
After initially training as a theatre designer, Robert Delaunay taught himself to paint after discovering the work of Paul Cézanne, which led him from Neo-Impressionism to Cubism. He first met the young Russian émigrée Sonia Ilinitchna Stern in a Parisian art gallery in early 1909. The attraction was mutual and instant: they married the following year.
While greatly respected by fellow artists, during their lifetimes the Delaunays did not attain the celebrity status of their peers such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse; indeed in 1976, the critic Michel Hoog lamented that “Robert Delaunay has probably still not found his place.” The situation improved with a pivotal exhibition of Robert’s early work at the Centre Pompidou in 1999 and now the impact of the pair’s contribution to the development of abstraction is finally widely acknowledged and they are justly lauded as pioneering precursors of today’s Kinetic Art and Op Art.
Though he briefly returned to figurative themes during the 1920s, by 1930 Robert Delaunay definitively abandoned traditional subject matter in all media, in favour of a uniquely vibrant, lyrical abstraction based solely around circular discs and combinations of colours. In an echo and development of his earlier experiments, his aim was to explore the power of superimposed circular forms and juxtaposed tones to create pulsing, shimmering effects. It was at this point in his career, at the height of his talents, that he painted a series of three monumental works entitled Rythme. Joie de vivre.
Robert Delaunay’s Rythme, Joie de Vivre, 1931. €1,200,000–1,800,000.
On 4 December, Sotheby’s Paris will be paying our own homage to the Delaunays when we present one of these dazzling compositions at the Art Impressionniste et Moderne sale. Rythme. Joie de vivre from 1931 is a jubilant, boldly painted kaleidoscope of colour that represents the zenith of Robert Delaunay’s pictorial style and it is a truly rare event for a painting from this period of his career to appear at auction. Another work from this series of three was donated to the Musée National d’Art Moderne by Sonia and Robert Delaunay in 1964 and is part of the current Pompidou exhibition. Visitors to Paris this December will thus have an unprecedented opportunity to compare the two canvases and immerse themselves in their swirling, endless rhythms. What better way to kickstart the festive season?
Tehzeeb Sandhu is a specialist in the Impressionist & Modern Art department, Sotheby’s Paris.