Sonia Delaunay (1884-1979)
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Sonia Delaunay (1884-1979)


Sonia Delaunay (1884-1979)
signed 'Sonia Delaunay' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
16 1/8 x 13 1/8 in. (41.3 x 33.4 cm.)
Painted in 1907
The artist's studio, until 1978.
Galerie Sapone, Nice.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1978.
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Sonia Delaunay, A Retrospective, February - March 1980, no. 3 (illustrated p. 127); this exhibition later travelled to Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute Museum of Art, April - June 1980; Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, June - August 1980; Atlanta, High Museum of Art, September - October 1980; New York, Grey Art Gallery, November - December 1980; Chicago, Art Institute, January - March 1981 and Montreal, Musée d'Art contemporain, April - May 1981.
Roslyn, New York, Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, The Long Island Collections, A Century of Art: 1880-1980, April - July 1982.
New York, The Jewish Museum, The Circle of Montparnasse: Jewish Artists in Paris, 1905-1945, October 1985 - February 1986.
New York, The Jewish Museum, Paris in New York: French Jewish Artists in Private Collections, March - June 2000.
Paris, Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, L'Ecole de Paris, 1904-1929, November - March 2001.
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Giovanna Bertazzoni
Giovanna Bertazzoni

Lot Essay

This work is sold with the artist's photo-certificate, and is recorded in her archive under no. 1254.

'It was from that very strong desire to go past Fauvism that my works from that epoch were born' - Sonia Delaunay (quoted in Sonia Delaunay, exh. cat., Buffalo, 1980, p. 18)

Philomène is a highly important painting from Sonia Delaunay's first breakthrough years in Paris. One of a series of extraordinarily vibrant and adventurous portraits of the same woman set against a sequence of brightly coloured and richly patterned backgrounds made in 1907, Delaunay's Philomène paintings represent the artist's greatest painterly achievements during her early career.

Born in the Ukraine and growing up both there and in St Petersburg, Sonia Terk, who was to marry and attain fame alongside her husband Robert Delaunay, only a few years after Philomène was painted, first moved to Paris in 1905. It was there that, responding to the pervasive influences of Matisse, Van Gogh and Gauguin, she sought to develop these artists' freer and more intense use of colour into a new, bolder and ultimately even autonomous and freeform language.

In touch with other leading avant-garde artists of a like mind at this time, such as fellow Russian émigrés Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej Jawlensky then based in Munich, Delaunay, in her paintings of Philomène, showed herself to be perhaps the first of these to have moved beyond Matisse and Gauguin by fusing their influence into what she once described as 'an extreme exaltation of colour with complete flatness'.

In Philomène, she abolished the chiaroscuro that, as she observed, even Matisse still used, and allowed bold free planes of colour an autonomy of their own, thus attaining the richer, more dynamic and expressive effect that would soon be witnessed in Germany in the art of Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter.

For Delaunay this significant development was a simple intuitive step that she took, 'just for the pleasure of it... Colour excited me. I didn't attempt to analyze what I was doing. These were things that came from inside me' (Sonia Delaunay, quoted in Hajo Duchting, Robert and Sonia Delaunay: The triumph of Colour, Cologne, 1994). As the five Philomène paintings reveal, the strength and boldness of Delaunay's further 'freeing' of colour was perhaps, as her husband Robert described, 'atavistic' in nature, being essentially rooted in the pure colours of her homeland. 'I am attracted by pure colours. Colours from my childhood, from the Ukraine. Memories of peasant weddings in my country, in which the red and green dresses decorated with many ribbons, billowed in dance. Memories of an album of folk costumes brought from Sweden by my uncle' (Sonia Delaunay quoted in exh. cat., op cit, Buffalo, 1980, p. 213).

A fusion of all these influences, from Russian Folk art to the latest paintings of Matisse, Philomène is a vibrant an powerful painting that not only establishes Delaunay as one of the leading pioneers among the international avant-garde, but also anticipates so much of what was to come.

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