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The pleasure of not teaching

Posted on May 12, 2015 in Sonia Delaunay, Tate Modern | No Comments

delauneyThere are some marvellous exhibitions in London at the moment: Impressionism at the National Gallery, John Singer Sargent at the National Portrait Gallery and the one I saw last Saturday: Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern. Once I’d have been making notes for the course I used to teach on European painting from 1840 to 1920. I would have enjoyed refreshing and extending my knowledge, and acquiring teaching materials. I don’t have to do any of that now – and I do miss a little not sharing what I’ve learned with my students. On the other hand, an exhibition like this one is now sheer pleasure, and I can just drink it all in for its own sake.

Sonia Delaunay turned out to be a far more intriguing figure than I had realised. Born in Odessa in 1885, she was adopted by her wealthy uncle whose assistance was important in her early years as a painter. Colour was what fascinated her and she and her husband, Robert Delaunay, developed a theory of colour contrasts that they called simultanism, drawing on the way that colours seem to change when they are placed alongside each other. What I love about her work is that she ignored the traditional barrier between fine and applied art. Her creativity and energy overflowed into furnishing, interior decoration and, above all, textiles. When family funds dried up after the Russian revolution she opened her own shop and workshop in Paris, as well as designing for the Metz and Co., an Amsterdam department store. Her textile designs are still fresh and vibrant and haven’t dated at all. Robert died in 1941, but Sonia lived on until 1979, dying at the age of 94, producing work that showed no slackening of quality right into the 1970s. So if you want to feast your eyes on glorious colours and learn about a remarkable woman and artist, get along to Tate Modern. The exhibition is on until 8 August.