Sonia Delaunay at Musee d’Art Moderne (Paris) and Tate Modern (London)

Sonia Delaunay could not have been just a nurse or had a normal job.  She drew, painted and stitched on everything to hand with incredible enthusiasm and skill.  Her body of work is truly fascinating and crosses 6 decades, 2 World Wars and massive changes in society, especially for women.  Bizarrely, this is her first retrospective in the UK.  I am certain that most visitors to the Tate Modern aren’t very familiar with Sonia Delaunay or her work.  Those who saw the exhibition in Paris were more likely to have an idea of what to expect because France considers her one of their own.

Tate Modern has presented her work more succinctly than Musee d’Art Moderne and in 3 main phases.  The visitor is directed through these and is given much more physical space in which to view the most glorious exhibits including a geometric pattern coat for the actress Gloria Swanson and the Flamenco-inspired paintings.  An optional audio guide supports the viewer’s visit by providing background info and anecdotes.

sonia coat  sonia flamenco

I found the Musee d’Art Moderne was generally less selective about what was on display.  Although expansive, the show space was dense and somewhat cluttered.  Key pieces were sometimes lost in the much bigger collection of work or physically inaccessible because of the guided tour groups.

She had very innovative ideas on colour and their perception when placed next to each other.  These theories evolved with Robert Delaunay’s, her husband, and together must have enjoyed some lively discussions with other key figures on the Paris art scene.

Sonia Delaunay was amazingly prolific and managed to churn out wonderful prints, fabric designs and embroidered textiles.  It is very impressive that she crossed disciplines so well and worked in fashion, art, theatre and movies, and interiors.  In times of financial trouble whilst living in Portugal, she created a brand and very enterprisingly sold her work in shops.

sonia portrait  SAM_6150

Personally speaking, Robert Delaunay’s paintings like Rhythm No.2, 1938, at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) don’t merit being better known than Sonia’s work in use of colour, composition or any other aspect I can think of.  It’s such a shame she has been so long in his shadow with a grossly underwhelming label of Maker of pretty things.

The Independent’s Holly Williams saw both exhibitions too, but doesn’t compare them.  Her article is about urging readers to go to Tate Modern and see the vibrant multimedia work for themselves.  She is absolutely right to do so and the £4 entry fee is more than worth it.


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