SONIA DELAUNAY-TERK (Sarah Elievna Stern) was an artist, fashion designer, book illustrator, one of the world leaders in the avant-garde, art deco, and patchwork, and the inspiration behind the idea of “total design.”


Sonia was born in Odesa and spent her early childhood near Poltava. She became famous abroad when she moved to Germany at the age of 18 to learn how to draw. Then she got to Paris and gained world recognition. At that time, Ms. Stern started the active period of her own creative work by painting canvases with concentric, multi-colored geometric compositions. At the same time, she was fond of drawing on fabrics, art deco compositions, embroidery, interior design, and designing clothes. Her designs from the second half of the 1920s were recognized symbols of avant-garde fashion. It was then that colleagues and journalists started calling Sonia “the lady of abstract art.” Subsequently, she came up with the idea of total design: everything, without exception – even cars – should complement the clothing of its owners. It is doubtful that Sonia suspected that, by changing her Bugatti car to match the design of a new dress, she was introducing world-class fashion to customization.


But what brought the main glory to Sonia was a new style of fine art developed in conjunction with her husband, French artist Robert Delaunay: orphism. In the name of the concept there is the hint of the mythical singer Orpheus, whose talent could not be resisted even by nature itself. The main idea of orphism is the combination of a mixture of shades in such a way that the play of colors and light creates a visual effect when viewing the art object, creating the illusion of ripples, a fantastic whirlpool. This Sonia considered to be a symbol of cosmic energy. Their followers praised the creations of the talented couple: they dedicated a separate hall to their works at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Paris, which is part of the Georges Pompidou Cultural Center. Sonia also received France’s highest award: The Legion of Honor. She also broke another record: Madame Delaunay became the first female artist to have a solo exhibition at the Louvre during her lifetime. It happened in 1964, 15 years before her death.


- She had her own fashion-house, “Sonia”, where she sold her dresses and jewelry. Together with other artists, she opened the abstract art exhibition Salon des Réalités Nouvelles (“New Realities”). It is still held annually in Paris. Its purpose is to promote abstract art.

-French President Georges Pompidou purchased three paintings by Sonia Delaunay, one of which he presented to US President Richard Nixon during an official visit to America. Two were placed in the Élysée Palace.

-In 1925, the American magazine Vogue came out with a cover decorated with an “Optical dress” by

- For many years, Madame Delaunay lectured to young artists at the Sorbonne University.

-Charles, the son of Sonia and Robert Delaunay, is a renowned jazz historian, author of the world’s first jazz discography, and the co-founder of the world-famous Hot Club de France.

- At the Paris auction Calmels Cohen in 2002, a private collector bought the painting “Market in Mignot” for € 4.59 million: five times higher than the stated price.

- There are almost none of Delaunay’s works in Ukraine. The two auto-lithographs of Delaunay-Terk (“Yellow Balls” and “Big Red Circle”) are kept in the National Art Museum of Ukraine. The patron and collector Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky was the donor.


- Delaunay-Terk was born on November 13 or 14, 1885 in Odesa. Interestingly, there are still controversies surrounding Sonia’s exact date of birth. But most art critics lean toward November 13th.

- Confusion has also arisen concerning her exact place of birth. Many foreign reference books indicate Sonia was born near Poltava in the city of Hradizhsk. However, in her autobiography Nous irons jusqu’au soleil (“We’ll Go to the Sun”), published by Sonia in 1978, she wrote that she had been born in Odesa. Her father worked at the factory in Hradizhsk. Also Odesa as the birthplace that is indicated in the will of the artist.

- She studied in Germany at the Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe (1903-1905), and at the Paris academy La Palette (since 1905).


- She died on December 5, 1979 in Paris.

A REAL ANECDOTE : One of the many fans of Delaunay-Terk’s works was looking at what seemed to him to be a small sketch made by the artist, remarked enthusiastically: – “What expressiveness, verve, and refinement. I congratulate you!” – “Pardon me,” Sonia replied, “but this is where I usually wipe my brush.”

This article by Nadiia Avramchuk and Mykola Sukhomozsky is reprinted with the publisher's permission from the book (UN)Celebrated Ukrainians Who Changed the Course of History, SAMIT-KNYHA, Kyiv, 2020. 


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