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Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT SWISS COLLECTION
Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979)

Deux femmes et un enfant

Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979)
Deux femmes et un enfant
oil on canvas
38 3/8 x 31 5/8 in. (97.5 x 80.2 cm.)
Painted in 1907
The artist's collection (no. 1542), until 1979.
Galerie Jean Chauvelin, Paris.
Private collection, Switzerland, by whom probably acquired from the above.
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Lot Essay

Jean-Louis Delaunay and Richard Riss have confirmed the authenticity of this work.

‘In 1907, I was in Paris, I was working in a studio in the Rue Campagne Première. I loved the oils by Van Gogh and Gauguin. I remembered my holidays in Finland and the faces of young girls. I remembered also the colours of my native Ukraine. I painted this work which I particularly liked – a sort of Holy Family. The young woman on the right was the subject of another work that is in the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, which I gave to the museum, but I always kept Deux femmes et un enfant with me in my studio.’ (Sonia Delaunay, quoted on the artist’s certificate, dated 15 October 1979)

Painted in 1907, Deux femmes et un enfant is a powerful composition, which demonstrates Sonia Delaunay’s desire to devise an autonomous pictorial language out of colour – a guiding principle within her ever-evolving style throughout a long and prolific career as an artist. Featuring a group of anonymous sitters, the present canvas was executed in the artist’s studio in the Rue Campagne Première in Paris. The three figures are depicted in half-length, arranged in a manner reminiscent of the Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist compositions from the Renaissance. Revered by the artist herself, Deux femmes et un enfant remained in Delaunay’s personal collection until her death in 1979. Dynamic and energetic, it presents an instinctive and emotional response to the contemporary art world, expressing vitality through vibrant colours applied with bold, impasto brushstrokes. Deux femmes et un enfant is the epitome of the innovative painterly aesthetic Delaunay had developed by fusing together the atavistic red, blue and yellow hues reminiscent of the atmospheric, rural landscape of her Ukrainian childhood, and combining them with the forms inspired by the contemporary French avant-garde: the unique colour scheme of this composition was achieved through the employment of contrasting chromatic ranges as a means of creating a structural basis for the artwork.
Out of the leading Eastern European artists of the time, including fellow Russian émigrés Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky, who were based in Munich, Delaunay was one of the first to respond to the pervasive influence of Post-Impressionism and Fauvism. The artist had relocated to Paris in 1905, after a brief stint at the Kunstakademie Karlsruhe in southwestern Germany. The structure of plastic expression, prominent in the rendering of the facial features of the figures portrayed in Deux femmes et un enfant, is a legacy of her German period, after which having a strong, constructive basis becomes a cornerstone of her oeuvre. It was in Paris however, where Delaunay came to mature as an artist and developed her signature colour palette, comprising of contrasting hues separated by schematic outlines. The artist’s subjects within the present composition are composed of chromatic elements which are indicative of a specific state of mind, the cues for the sitters’ inner melancholy could also be detected in their empty or closed eyes, and languid, meditative poses.
By the time Deux femmes et un enfant was painted, Delaunay was well-acquainted with the works of the French avant-garde: the 1905 Salon d’Automne was an extraordinary showcase of a group of artists that would come to be known as Les fauves, including André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Henri Matisse. Furthermore, public showings of Paul Cézanne's Les grandes baigneuses, drawings and paintings by Vincent Van Gogh at the Salon des Indépendants, and canvases by Paul Gauguin at the Galerie Vollard had offered intellectual stimulus for the young artist. Delaunay later acknowledged the impact that the oeuvre of Matisse, Van Gogh, and Gauguin had on her, stating: ‘It was from that very strong desire to go past Fauvism that my works from that epoch were born’ (Delaunay, quoted in Sonia Delaunay, exh. cat., Buffalo, 1980, p. 18).
Deux femmes et un enfant demonstrates how the artist moved beyond Gauguin and Matisse, fusing their influence into an extreme exaltation of colour with complete flatness. The rich and dynamic effect of the bold colour planes in the present composition is reminiscent of Matisse’s 1905 Portrait de madame Matisse à la raie verte; however, Deux femmes et un enfant exhibits no trace of chiaroscuro that, as the artist herself observed, even Matisse still employed in his compositions. This is particularly evident in the planar treatment of the facial features of the three figures: there are notable and striking contrasts in the vivid angles of the noses, mouths and jaws of the two women and the child against the rich darkness of their hair as well as their boldly coloured garments. An amalgamation of French Fauvism, German Expressionism and Russian Folk Art, Deux femmes et un enfant is a bold and dynamic composition. It prefigures the growing emphasis on line and colour that came to characterise major artistic movements of the 20th Century, establishing Delaunay as one of the leading pioneers among the international avant-garde.

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