When we talk about art from the field of teaching, we are interested in the intimate and complex links between the artist’s time, her life and her work. The relationship between the three spheres not only makes it possible to understand the work and the meaning that the artist gave it, but is also the key to finding meaning, beauty and values in the world around us. Art is opposed to silence and death, art is an opportunity to see life again. This time we’re talking about a female artist who suggests that we look at the world through light and colour. A woman who knew how to adapt to the changes her life brought and who developed feminine artistic forms that went beyond painting, such as the decorative arts, textile design and fashion.
Sònia Delaunay was born Sara Elievna Stern in 1885 in Ukraine to a humble Jewish family. Given that it was impossible for them to offer their daughter a promising future, Sara’s parents gave her up for adoption to her maternal aunt and uncle at the age of seven. Then Sara Stern became Sònia Terk. Her new home, much more comfortable, was in St. Petersburg and she adapted quickly, as she herself said: “I was energetic, invincible, almost unreal, I smiled at fate without ever complaining and with an innate sense of happiness.”
The Terk family made sure that Sònia had a good general education as well as a musical and artistic one. When she was only fourteen, her passion for painting led her to meet the German portraitist Max Liebermann, who gave her a box of colours and encouraged her to study art. At the age of eighteen she went to Germany to further her studies, but the anti-Semitic policies of the German state led her to move to Paris in 1906. Germany had provided her with knowledge and she discovered avant-garde painting, but Paris would be key from an artistic and personal point of view: her second home. At that time, it was unthinkable that a girl in her position could live far from her father’s gaze, so, when she finished her studies in 1908, her adoptive parents arranged a marriage of convenience that would allow her to live away from home. The marriage, with art dealer Wilhelm Uhde, did not last long, as she soon met the person who would become the man of her life, Robert Delaunay. Once divorced and married to Delaunay, her name became Sònia Delaunay-Sterk and her new home Paris, with an open view of the world.
Sonia painted and experimented with colour, the influences of abstract painting under the guidance such important painters as Kandinsky. The evolution of thoughts and philosophy arising from the creative activities led her to explore new formats. One of her first works was a patchwork quilt made for her son, Charles, born in 1911. The art that lived inside her came from within, with the colours of the fabrics and lights that had accompanied her in her childhood in Ukraine and Russia in addition to the geometric shapes she borrowed from what she had learnt in Germany and Paris.
The making of the quilt was an artistic respite from her new role as a mother, but at the same time it involved a beginning in the search for new forms of expression that went beyond the traditional pictorial format. In the following years, World War I and the Russian Revolution wiped out Sònia’s economic resources. One day, walking along the Rambla de Barcelona, she decided that she should look for a way to make a living from art, and with this purpose in mind, she moved to Madrid where she opened her first store, Casa Sonia, dedicated to dressing the high society ladies who were willing to break moulds.
Sònia designed the fabrics and also the dresses, which her friend and poet Apollinaire described as living paintings. Success led her to open other stores in Lisbon and Barcelona, but in 1921 the couple returned to Paris, where Sònia had the opportunity to create the costumes for different plays, theatrical performances, and even costumes for movies. Robert’s death in 1941 did not stop Sònia’s activity, who saw her work recognised starting in the 1950s.
During her stay in Madrid, Sònia frequented flamenco tablaos and stated that flamenco music touched her heart. This picture is evidence of it.
Flamenco singers (1916)
Sònia’s art has only one protagonist: colour. But colour alone, in isolation, has no strength and no movement. What gives it rhythm are combinations. Red and orange are reinforced with the presence of green, which is its complementary colour, that is, it is on the opposite side of the colour wheel.
Following the same game proposed by Sònia, the two shades of blue reinforce each other when you put them next to yellow, which is their complementary colour. Orange is prominent alongside light green and the same goes for violet. Complementary colours generate optical tensions and vibrations that create rhythms similar to musical beats.
The repetition of the circles helps reinforce the central theme of the painting: flamenco, a musical genre, born in Andalusia. The concentric circles that emerge from the centre of the guitar are the waves of sound that bring out the feelings at the heart of the singing and dancing.
The tocaor plays the strings of a luminous guitar to an incessant rhythm, full of nuances that convey pain, joy, passion, love and lovelessness. These are sounds that go through the veins and straight to the heart.
The dancer adorned with flowers on her head and a brightly coloured dress, plays the castanets, which are inspired by the rhythm of the guitar. Singing and music get inside her body and become movement, giving wings to the flamenco soul.
This painting shows us flamenco as the ultimate musical expression of joy. Sònia Delaunay was a female artist who did not give up either art or the role she willingly took on as a wife and mother. She and her husband Robert helped to bring art to different formats and areas of daily life. With them, colour not only took on a leading role, but also flooded the most intimate spaces of society.