I'm not sure when I first discovered Sonia Delaunay's work but ever since she has been one of my greatest inspirations. Not only the work itself, but the entrepreneurial spirit with which she designed her career. Sonia was born on November 14, 1885 in Ukraine, and attended art school in Germany at age 18, until moving to Paris to study and work shortly after. There she met painter and future husband/artistic partner Robert Delaunay, and they had their son Charles in 1911. The pair, among other artists, founded orphism (an offshoot of cubism with a focus on abstraction, bold colors and the relationships colors form with each other - simultané is a key phrase to orphism which Sonia later trademarked).
"About 1911 I had the idea of making for my son, who had just been born, a blanket composed of bits of fabric like those I had seen in the houses of Russian peasants. When it was finished, the arrangement of the pieces of material seemed to me to evoke cubist conceptions and we then tried to apply the same process to other objects and paintings." - Sonia Delaunay
In 1914, Sonia, Robert, and Charles moved to Spain during the First World War. Until the Russian Revolution (1917), she had been supported financially by her family in Russia, and when their support ended she needed a new source of income. Thus her business, Casa Sonia, was born, beginning with costume design for Cleopatra and continuing with fashion and interior decoration.
When the family returned to Paris in 1921, she began to design clothes for private clients, also designing and selling textile designs to a French manufacturer. Sonia continued to work in many mediums throughout her career, including painting, textiles, fashion design, graphic design, and interior and set design. She and Robert collaborated together throughout their marriage. For several years she even opened her own storefront, Atelier Simultane, in Paris.
One who knows how to appreciate color relationships, the influence of one color with another, their contrasts and dissonances, is promised an infinite variety of images. - Sonia Delaunay
Sonia took a break from making work for 10 years after Robert's death from cancer in 1941, dedicating that decade to promoting his work and preserving her husband's legacy.
“I have led three lives: one for Robert, one for my son and grandsons, a shorter one for myself. I don’t regret not having given myself more attention. I really did not have the time.” - Sonia Delaunay
She did return to work though, and in 1964 became the first living female artist with a retrospective at the Louve. Sonia died in 1979 in Paris, and was buried next to Robert. Her son Charles dedicated his career to jazz, founding Hot Club de France and compiling the first ever Jazz discography published worldwide.
"I love creation more than life, and I must express myself before disappearing." - Sonia Delaunay
A book illustrating Sonia's career is available here. Images via Pinterest unless noted.