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Sonia Delaunay

French, born Russia, 1885–1979

Colored Rhythm, 1958

Oil on canvas
45 x 34 1/4 inches (114.3 x 87 cm)
Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1964

Sonia Delaunay, her husband Robert Delaunay, and several other painters near the beginning of the twentieth century were united in their belief that color alone could unleash the rhythms and powers of the universe. Inspired by writings about color theory by Eugène Chevreul, a nineteenth-century French dye chemist; Cubism, invented by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque; and the bright colors of older French painters like André Derain and Henri Matisse, this group of artists eventually removed all representation from their paintings in order to concentrate on the visual power of shapes and colors. The French writer Guillaume Apollinaire named their painting style Orphism after the mythical Greek character Orpheus, who possessed magical music-making powers. The artists who practiced this style eventually embraced the term. Delaunay wrote in 1970, "We disengaged color from all its foreign elements and it became a means of expression, pure like notes in music and words in poetry."

After Robert Delaunay's death in 1841, Sonia Delaunay continued to paint and design textiles, costumes, books, ceramics, and more. In 1958, she made this painting—one in a series of similar works—which consists of mostly colorful, simple, geometric half circles, triangles, and squares arranged in patterns along diagonal lines on a darker background. Each shape is soft-edged and slightly different from the others. The orange-red color is enhanced by both the green (whose complementary color, opposite it on the color wheel, would be red) and the blue (whose complementary color would be orange), according to Chevreul’s theory that "when complementary colors are juxtaposed, each appears to be more intense than when seen in isolation."

Related Lesson Plan

Rhythmic Geometric Abstraction (For Grades K–8)


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