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Rythme coloré (Colored Rhythm)

Sonia Delaunay (French, born Russia, 1885–1979). Rythme coloré (Colored Rhythm), 1958. Oil on canvas, 45 x 34 1/4 inches (114.3 x 87 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1964 (K1964:23). © Pracusa S.A..

Rhythmic Geometric Abstraction

Featuring Sonia Delaunay's Colored Rhythm, 1958

Conceptual Basis

Colored Rhythm, 1958, by Sonia Delaunay, captures the philosophy of Orphism, a branch of Cubism that focuses on bright colors and abstraction, by using shape and color as a style of expression similar to notes in music. Delaunay’s work is a geometric abstraction that symbolically represents the joyful rhythms of the universe, which felt were in harmony with modern life. This lesson, in connection with a music curriculum, will introduce students to the Orphism movement through emphasis on color, shape, pattern, and rhythm.

Featured Work

Sonia Delaunay
(French, born Russia, 1885–1979)
Colored Rhythm, 1958
Oil on canvas
45 x 34 1/4 inches (114.3 x 87 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1964

Lesson Objectives

  • Become familiar with artist Sonia Delaunay and the Orphism movement
  • Learn about geometrical abstractions with emphasis on the element of shape  
  • Support the understanding of basic art elements and principles
  • Compose music inspired by colors, pattern, and rhythms in visual art
  • Create an artwork depicting geometrical abstractions in the style of Orphism


  • Coloring materials: colored pencils, markers, paint, or crayons
  • Pencils for drawing
  • Drawing paper
  • Rulers
  • Protractors or circular-shape tracers

Background Information for Teachers

About the Artist

Sonia Delaunay was exposed to music and art at a young age. While attending art classes in Germany and Paris, she met various artists, including her future husband, artist Robert Delaunay. Together Robert and Sonia pursued the study of color and cofounded the Orphism art movement. The movement combined Cubist geometric shapes with strong color. The use of color theory, inspired by writings by nineteenth-century French dye chemist Eugène Chevreul, is a major component of Delaunay’s work. Her geometric abstractions (art based on the use of geometric shapes) contained vivid color and bold pattern. In reflecting on the Orphism movement, Delaunay stated, “We disengaged color from all its foreign elements and it became a means of expression, pure like notes in music and words in poetry.”

In need of added income to support her artmaking, the artist began designing costumes for plays. She later entered the fashion business, drawing inspiration from her artwork to create clothing and textiles, and also practiced interior design. Delaunay continued with her career after her husband’s death in 1941. She even painted several famous French sports cars as accessories to her textile and clothing designs. In 1964, she became the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre.

About the Art

Colored Rhythm, 1958, consists of colorful and geometric shapes, including triangles, semicircles, and squares. These shapes are arranged in patterns along diagonal lines on a dark background. Each shape has soft edges and is slightly different. Delaunay’s use of complementary colors enhances her shapes, creating a vivid composition. According to Chevreul’s color theory, “when complementary colors are juxtaposed, each appears to be more intense than when seen in isolation.”

Vocabulary for Students

Cubism: early twentieth-century art movement comprised of geometric shapes and multiple perspectives or viewpoints

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

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

rhythm: principle of art consisting of a regular repetition of elements

Discussion and Activity: Playing Colored Rhythms

According to the artist, Orphism, “disengaged color from all its foreign elements and it became means of expression, like pure notes in music and words in poetry.” For a fun activity to support class discussion and visual literacy, students can create a rhythmic song based on Delaunay’s artwork. 

During a discussion, students can view the different elements of the work. After studying the work, they can identify key features of Delaunay’s painting, including color and shape. Ask students to imagine they can jump inside the artwork. What music would they hear? Can they hum or drum the beat? 

As a class, create a rhythmic song inspired by the elements in Colored Rhythm. To do so, as a class, assign a number to beats for each of the colors within Delaunay’s painting. For example: two beats = red, four beats = black, etc. As you label the colors with a beat, display the beats on a board for students to read easily. Point to each color in Delaunay’s painting. Students can play the number of beats represented by each color with claps, finger snaps, or light table drumming. If musical instruments are readily available, have students choose different instruments to represent each color. Have students play their colors in a variety of patterns. You can create a small musical composition from the pattern the students have created. 

Breaking down the different layers of meaning in an artwork allows students to build abstract thoughts based on concrete observations and is an interactive way to teach visual literacy in your classroom. Once musical compositions have been created, ask students to create lyrics to each song. This can be done in groups or independently, and can be used to transition into the artmaking activity.

Artmaking Activity

To begin the artmaking activity, students will create vertical and horizontal lines around their paper with a ruler. Using a protractor or circle to trace shapes, create circles on the page that intersect with the lines. Triangles or geometric patterns can also fill the space. Encourage students to erase some lines randomly to create unique shapes. 
Once students have filled their paper with geometric abstractions, they can fill in their shapes using a variety of coloring materials.

Lesson Tips

  • This lesson can be tailored to focus on different areas of color theory. Students can use a limited color palate to create a unique composition. For example, students can create a monochromatic, complementary, or warm or cool rhythmic design.
  • For older students, added details and smaller shapes can make the design more intricate.
  • Delaunay also used unique designs to create clothing and cars! To further the artmaking process, students can take their finished artwork and use it as inspiration for their own fashion or car design.

Optional Reflections and Lesson Wrap-Up

  • In a short writing activity, students can create their own song or poem about their geometric abstraction. Encourage students to reflect upon the mood of their artwork based on the shapes and colors they created, and give their work a title. The writing assignment and artwork can be displayed together.
  • Students can take a piece of music that they enjoy and create a geometric abstraction inspired by that song. Students should emphasize the way the music makes them feel and why the elements in their artwork reflect those thoughts and feelings.

New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum Standards

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

Teacher Example

Colorful drawing featuring shapes and geometric forms
Example of finished artwork based on lesson plan. Artwork by School Program Coordinator Kelly Macagnone.


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