Art as a way of life


Moody skies behind Tate Modern

I first became aware of Sonia Delaunay as an art student and it was her whole life approach to her work which I found appealing, so when I realised that Tate Modern were to be holding a retrospective this spring I really couldn’t miss out on seeing it.

Sitting outside the exhibition having a cup of tea before going it there was time to study the timeline of her life on the wall in the rest area as well as take in a bit of people watching – I have to confess I am always doing this, and sometimes overhear fantastic ‘nuggets’ of conversations.  One of these was yesterday while I was drinking my tea, a group of ladies “of a certain age” sat at an adjacent table when one of them suddenly piped up with “well I don’t know anything at all about this lady, but I saw something in one of the free papers about her and thought the pictures looked rather pretty, so I thought I’d come along.”  I suppose that is as good a reason as any to visit an exhibition, but I couldn’t help but hope that she might leave being a bit better informed about this artist who’s work crossed the boundaries between High Art and craft and design.


Exhibition booklet cover (publ. Tate Modern)

There are 12 rooms in the show each focussing on a specific period in her life, the first showing colourful figurative paintings from the early 1900’s (when she was in  her twenties) through her early experiments in abstraction, her time spent in Portugal and Spain, her fashion and textiles business and ending with a return to and reworking of paintings in the 1960’s.

3Fashion design and illustrations from the 1920’s (courtesy of exhibition booklet, publ. Tate Modern)

My own particular favourite rooms were those concentrating on her fashion and textiles designs.  There are several original garments and accessories on show, including the Simultaneous Dress she made to wear on her frequent visits to the Bal Bullier ballroom.  One wall is taken up with textile design drawings with printed fabric samples in a case beneath which shows how commercially aware she was.  As a little light relief one of the garments on display is a knitted swimsuit.  I was aware of the fashion for knitted swimwear in the early-mid 2oth century and have seen patterns and photographs of such garments; but until yesterday I had never actually seen one – incredible!  What on earth would you do once it got wet?  The wool would get waterlogged and pull the whole thing down, it must have been dreadfully embarrassing.


Paris exhibition painting (from exhibition booklet publ. Tate Modern)

The largest paintings are the pieces she created for the 1937 Paris International Exhibition of Arts and Technology.  The image above depicts a propeller and engine parts and os one of three (the others show an engine and an instrument panel).  Very much of their time, the paintings celebrate technological advances and Modernity.

The post-war era rooms follow her career after her husbands (Robert Delaunay) death in 1946 and culminate with her reworking of earlier works but this time her palette has become much more sombre.


Abstract painting from 1945 (from exhibition booklet publ. Tate Modern)

All in all it is an interesting and informative exhibition about an artist who was at the forefront of Modernism and the Avante Garde, but remains almost unknown outside artistic circles; this is despite her designs being the basis and inspiration for so many household textiles today.  Personally, I was a little disappointed with some of the paintings, but only because I felt that so many were really variations on a theme.  The textile design rooms were, for me, the most inspirational and fascinating.  It is an exhibition worth seeing, especially if you don’t know much about the artist.   I came away feeling both informed and inspired.


Tate Modern (with attendant development works) featuring exhibitions by

TWO FEMALE artists!

The best bit really is that Tate Modern are currently featuring TWO major retrospective exhibitions by FEMALE artists AT THE SAME TIME!  This has to be a first, and hopefully something we will see more of in the future.


About paisleypedlar

Artist, Sewist, sometime Cyclist and Arm Chair Activist
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