Sunday, 13 April 2014


“Painting is by its nature a luminous language.” - Robert Delaunay

Robert Delaunay (12 April 1885 – 25 October 1941) was a French artist who, with his wife Sonia Delaunay and others, co-founded the Orphism art movement, noted for its use of strong colours and geometric shapes. His later works were more abstract, reminiscent of Paul Klee. His key influence related to bold use of colour, and a clear love of experimentation of both depth and tone. Delaunay was hugely influential on the Expressionist movement, and he had initially been invited to participate in the first Blaue Reiter exhibition in 1913. Yet his work was also an inspiration for the Futurists in Italy and the American Synchronizers, and he took part in the Art Deco Exhibition in the 1920’s.

Robert Delaunay was born in 1885 in Paris to an upper class family. He started painting when he was young and served an apprenticeship with a theatrical designer from 1902 to 1904. Otherwise he had no formal training. He first exhibited in 1904 at the Salon des Independents (he was the youngest exhibitor ever) and his work was clearly influenced by the Impressionists. He began to experiment soon after, however, taking pointillist ideas and stretching them to incorporate colour and movement.

By 1908 he was playing an active role in the development of Cubism. His painting ‘The Eiffel Tower’ (1910) was received with great acclaim, and two years later his ‘City of Paris’ caused a sensation at the Salon des Independents. Delaunay’s abstract works proved revolutionary in the development of French art. Apollinaire christened his style Orphism in the way the art had similarities with the abstract in music. By 1914 Delaunay was experimenting with wax. With the outbreak of the First World War he moved first to Portugal then to Spain where he worked briefly with Diaghilev. Relocating to Paris in the Twenties he collaborated with Leger in the Art Deco Exhibition and worked in set design on a number of films.

His reputation declined somewhat in the latter part of his career but he continued to experiment with materials such as sand, mosaics and lacquered stone to be used in his acclaimed ‘Reliefs’ series. He had always had grand ambitions for his art and these were fulfilled with his commissions for the International Exposition in 1937. The following year with the help of his wife Sonia and others he decorated the Tuileries Salon where he created three enormous ‘Rhythms’.

Delaunay stated: “As an artist, as a manual craftsman, I wage my revolution on walls. I have now discovered new materials that can transform a wall, not only externally but in its very substance. Separate man from art? Never. I cannot separate man from art because I build houses for him! Even when fashion dictated easel art, I was already envisaging great murals.”.

In his ‘Air, Iron, Water’ of 1937 (Israel Museum, Jerusalem), Delaunay combines the abstract concentric circles with cubist inspired renditions of the Eiffel Tower and a locomotive, as well as the figures of the Three Graces to compose a pleasing, highly decorative painting that harmonises the representational with the abstract.

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