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Soleil, tour, aéroplane (Sun, Tower, Airplane)

Robert Delaunay (French, 1885–1941). Soleil, Tour, Aéroplane (Sun, Tower, Airplane), 1913. Oil on canvas, 52 x 51 5/8 inches (132.1 x 131.1 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; A. Conger Goodyear Fund, 1964 (1964:14).

Technology-Driven Art

Featuring Robert Delaunay's Soleil, Tour, Aéroplane (Sun, Tower, Airplane), 1913

Conceptual Basis

Sun, Tower, Airplane, 1913, by Robert Delaunay, is a celebration of modern technological advancements in the early twentieth century. The painting depicts Delaunay’s enthusiasm for technological developments in the new and modern world through the use of bright colors and fragmented imagery. This lesson will introduce students to three significant technological feats of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries while encouraging them to reflect upon the technologies we experience in today’s society.

Featured Work

Robert Delaunay
(French, 1885–1941)
Soleil, Tour, Aéroplane (Sun, Tower, Airplane), 1913
Oil on canvas
52 x 51 5/8 inches (132.1 x 131.1 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
A. Conger Goodyear Fund, 1964

Lesson Objectives

  • Become familiar with the artist Robert Delaunay and the Orphism art movement.
  • Learn about three technological advances of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries: the Eiffel Tower, biplane, and Ferris Wheel.  
  • Make connections between a historical era and today’s society.
  • Support the understanding of basic art elements and principles.
  • Create an artwork depicting the technological advances experienced in everyday life. Create an artwork depicting the technological advances experienced in everyday life.


  • Coloring materials: colored pencils, markers, paint, or crayons
  • Pencils for drawing
  • Drawing paper
  • Magazines or newspapers (optional)
  • Glue (optional)
  • Scissors (optional)

Background Information for Teachers

About the Artist

Robert Delaunay (1885–1941) was a French artist who lived during a time of growth and change in society and the art world. Without formal training in the arts, Delaunay had a successful career as an artist, experimenting with different art movements such as Pointillism, Fauvism, and Cubism early in his career. As Delaunay’s career progressed he began creating more abstract art. In 1912, Delaunay began to develop a unique style by transforming Cubism through the use of a vibrant color palette. Delaunay came to believe that light could be expressed as pure color, independent of objective content. This blend of Cubist-style geometric shapes with strong colors would become known as the Orphism art movement.

About the Art

Delaunay combined fractured forms and shallow spaces of the then-new style of Cubism with his own passion for color and light in Sun, Tower, Airplane, 1913. The left half of the painting is completely abstract, consisting of swirling geometric shapes and color. The same bright colors are also found in the right side of the painting along with several recognizable semi-abstracted elements. A biplane is seen at the top center of the painting. The shapes visible below the plane are lines representing the iron work of the Eiffel Tower. On the far right is a rounded, step-like shape that is an abstracted Ferris Wheel.

All three symbols of modern technology in Sun, Tower, Airplane—the biplane, Eiffel Tower, and Ferris Wheel—were invented in Delaunay’s lifetime. All three defy gravity and extend into the brightly colored, energetic atmosphere. The sun shining throughout the painting is meant to reflect the artist’s belief that nature and technology can coexist. For further information on each of the three technologies included in this painting, refer to the Building Visual Literacy portion of this lesson plan.


Vocabulary for Students

Cubism: early twentieth-century art movement marked by the use of geometric shapes and multiple perspectives or viewpoints

Orphism: art movement born out of Cubism focusing on abstract geometric shapes and color

geometric shape: shape with defined, straight edges created with mathematical tools (e.g., square, triangle, rectangle)

Building Visual Literacy: Art Detectives

For a fun activity to support class discussion and visual literacy, students can play detective by attempting to piece together clues about an artwork. During a discussion, students can view the different elements of the work. Studying the work, they can identify key features and assess their feelings about what they see. What other clues can be collected by looking at the title? Based on the evidence they have collected, students can draw conclusions about what the artwork represents. This detective activity can be a way to approach looking at and talking about art in groups.

Try beginning this activity by withholding the title of the artwork. Students can begin by focusing on the different elements and principles that are seen in Sun, Tower, Airplane (e.g., color, shape, value, space, movement, etc.). Have students describe the feelings they experience when observing this painting. Once they have investigated the elements of the artwork, the student art detectives can begin examining the imagery.

Explain to students that during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the images seen in the painting were inventions that were considered technological advances. Many inventions during that period are still used today. Ask your student art detectives to locate the following images:

  • The Eiffel Tower was erected in Paris in 1889 for the World’s Fair. At that time it was the tallest building in the world. Designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the Eiffel Tower allowed Parisians to view their city from a unique vantage point. Even though it was a triumph of engineering, many people considered it an eyesore, wanting it to be torn down after the fair. Delaunay was fascinated by the Eiffel Tower and painted it numerous times.
  • The biplane represents the soar in aviation during the early 1900s. In 1903, the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, successfully flew the first biplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The inclusion of the biplane is also an homage to French aviator and inventor Louis Blériot, who had been the first to fly across the English Channel in a heavier-than-air machine in 1909.
  • The Ferris Wheel was invented by George Ferris in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The popular carnival ride was invented to show that American engineering could rival that of the French. The first Ferris Wheel had thirty-six cars made of wood and was 264 feet high (almost as tall as a football field is long).

Breaking down the different layers of meaning in an artwork allows students to build abstract thoughts based on concrete observations. It is an interactive way to teach visual literacy in your classroom. Once students have discussed the inventions from history, ask students to brainstorm the different technological advances in today’s society. This discussion can segue into the artmaking activity.

Artmaking Activity

To begin the artmaking lesson, ask students to brainstorm new and exciting technological advancements in our world. Objects such as smartphones, social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and the Internet have transformed the way people communicate with one another or receive news updates. Jet planes, 3D movies, and video games are also modern technologies that we may experience and use daily. Like people in the early 1900s, these modern technologies are celebrated and can one day affect people of the future.

Students will create an artwork celebrating the modern technologies we have today. Encourage students to think of this project as a time capsule or a visual diary of current events— maybe, in one hundred years, people will be able to view their artwork and see a depiction of their society and technologies.

Have students draw their technologies onto a piece of paper. They can be realistic drawings or semi-abstracted objects as seen in Robert Delaunay’s Sun, Tower, Airplane. For the spaces surrounding their drawings, students can create interlocking geometric shapes. Coloring materials can be modified depending on the grade level or educator preference. This lesson can also be adapted to become a collage or painting project.

Lesson Tips

  • This lesson can be tailored to focus on different subject areas or themes, including consumerism, commercialism, and curriculum-based learning.

Optional Reflections and Lesson Wrap-Up

  • In a short writing activity, students can reflect upon the technologies they created in their artwork. Have them discuss how the technologies have changed the way people live their lives. Students can brainstorm how these technologies might evolve in the future.
  • Students can discuss the importance of the invention of the Eiffel Tower, biplane, and Ferris Wheel in today’s world. Students can also further research the history of those inventions and what technological advances they have inspired in today’s society.
  • For an additional activity with a history element, have students pick a period in history, then research and draw a few innovations of that time. See if other students can guess the time period.

New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum Standards

  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts: 1, 2, 3, 4
  • New York State Learning Standards for Social Studies: 2
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening: 1, 2, 4
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language: 1, 2, 3
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading: 2, 3, 4, 6
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing: 2, 4, 6, 7

Teacher Example

Colorful drawing featuring geometric forms, logos and an image of a cell phone
Example of finished artwork based on lesson plan. Artwork by School Program Coordinator Kelly Macagnone.


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