Robert Delaunay
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The French painter Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) revolutionised the use of colour in art. Influenced by the French master Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), close friends with the French poet Apollinaire (1880-1918) and admired by the German painter Paul Klee (1879-1940), he founded the Orphism art movement together with his wife Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) in the early 1910s. Geometric shapes and bright colours marked his way to a unique form of Abstractionism that earned him a place among the greatest artistic minds of the first half of the 20th century.



Publié par
Date de parution 09 décembre 2019
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781644618035
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 5 Mo

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Author: Vicky Carl
Baseline Co. Ltd,
© Parkstone Press International, New York, USA
© Confidential Concepts, worldwide, USA
© Image-Bar
© Succession Marcel Duchamp, Artists Right Society (ARS) New York, ADAGP, Paris
© Jean Metzinger Estate, Artists Right Society (ARS) New York, ADAGP, Paris
© Estate of Sonia Delaunay, L & M Services B.V Amsterdam
© Andre Derain Estate, Artists Right Society (ARS) New York, ADAGP, Paris
© Pablo Picasso Estate, Artists Right Society (ARS) New York,
© Albert Gleizes Estate, Artists Right Society (ARS) New York, ADAGP, Paris
© Jacques Villon Estate, Artists Right Society (ARS) New York, ADAGP, Paris
© Francis Picabia Estate, Artists Right Society (ARS) New York, ADAGP, Paris
© Georges Braque Estate, Artists Right Society (ARS) New York, ADAGP, Paris
© Fernand Leger Estate, Artists Right Society (ARS) New York, ADAGP, Paris
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or adapted without the permission of the copyright holder, throughout the world. Unless otherwise specified, copyright on the works reproduced lies with the respective photographers, artists, heirs or estates. Despite intensive research, it has not always been possible to establish copyright ownership. Where this is the case, we would appreciate notification.
ISBN: 978-1-64461-803-5
Vicky Carl


“ Words are a little too abstract to render the concrete value of painting. The essence of the painter lies in his craft, his technic, his expression, ‘the supernatural side,’ as Apollinaire called it, or rather his creative sensibility ” .
Robert Delaunay
His Life
Saint-Séverin Series
The Pre-War Years
The Windows Series
The Eiffel Tower Series
On The Construction Of Reality In Pure Painting
The War Years
What Is Orphism? (Also Called Simultanism)
In 1913, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire dedicated his work The Cubist Painters to Cubism , thereby helping the movement attain broad renown. Painters like Jean Metzinger and Albert Gleizes made impressive contributions to the Cubist language of shapes. In 1912 one of the most famous paintings of the 20th century was created: The Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) by Marcel Duchamp. Aided by the Cubist vocabulary of shapes and his familiarity with Étienne-Jules Marey’s photos depicting movement, Duchamp painted a picture that moved the world. Five movements of the motions of one person, descending a spiral staircase, are captured in time-lapsed sequence, showing all the reciprocal movements triggered by her walking. Simultaneity is the lyric expression of the modern view of life; it signifies the rapidity and the concurrence of all existence and action. In doing this, Duchamp introduced time as the fourth dimension in the painting. Though this nude triggered a scandal at the famous 1913 Armory Show in New York, some recognised the innovative character of this new work, calling it “the light at the end of the tunnel”. Duchamp, brother of the painter Jacques Villon, the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon and the painter Suzanne Duchamp, was anything but a consistent worker. His unruly soul quickly led him to experiment with different media and eclectic ideas that shocked the art world. In New York, he became friends with Francis Picabia, with whom he became responsible for Dadaism.
Simultaneity signifies the rapidity and the concurrence of all existence and action. Simultaneity for the Futurists was the “ lyrical exultation [and] the artistic visualisation ” of velocity. It is the result “ of those great causes of universal dynamism. ” It was also the focus of Robert and Sonia Delaunay. However, they both interpreted the term in a completely different manner. When Guillaume Apollinaire credited both the Delaunays with the term, the Futurist Boccioni accused them of plagiarism because he was not prepared to cede this key term to others, much less to two whose interpretation veered so greatly from his own.
The Delaunays did not, like other artists, use this term to mean dynamism. They did not refer to the “élan vital” (“vital force”) as Bergson did, but rather to Chevreul’s theory of the law of simultaneous contrast. This theory, which dated from 1839 and had already played a role with the Impressionists, related colours and the relationship of objects to one another. Chevreul’s work was republished in 1890 and thus more present in the collective knowledge of artists. Sonia Delaunay, in her work Contrastes Simultanés (Simultaneous Contrasts) dared to jump directly into the abstract. Her painting was already a formal reference system of colour rhythms at a time when her husband Robert and artists Klee, Kandinsky, Mondrian and Picasso were still slowly making their way towards detaching themselves from objects.

Marcel Duchamp , 1887-1968, Dada, French, Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) , 1912, Oil on canvas, 146.8 x 89.2 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

Wassily Kandinsky , Romantic Landscape , 1911. Oil on canvas, 94.3 x 129 cm. Lenbachhaus, Munich.

Paul Klee, View of a Harbour at Night , 1917. Gouache and oil on paper coated with chalk and glue, 21 x 15.5 cm. Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Strasbourg.
Robert Delaunay founded Orphism, also known as Orphic Cubism. Because of the orchestration of colour, Guillaume Apollinaire, with whom Delaunay was closely allied in 1912, named Delaunay’s painting style after Orpheus, the musician of Greek mythology. The origins of his painting style derived from Impressionism, Analytical Cubism and from Cézanne. The new landmark of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, built in 1898, fascinated him. Its elegant design became the subject of the Windows series. He painted it repeatedly, in new variations and refractions, using light and bright colour harmonies based on the colour values of light separated by a prism. He painted the dizzying views of the tower, the delicate construction, the fantastic view that he looked upon and yet always saw with a new perspective.
Guillaume Apollinaire observed: “ That which differentiates Cubism from the old schools of painting is that it is not an art of painting, but an art of conception which tends to rise to that of creation. In representing the concept of reality, or the created reality, the painter can give the appearance of three dimensions, he can, so to speak, cube it. He cannot do this by rendering simply the reality as seen unless he makes use of an illusion either in perspective or foreshortening which deforms the quality of the form conceived or created.
In Cubism, four tendencies have manifested themselves, of which two are parallel and pure. Scientific Cubism is one of the pure tendencies. It is the art of painting new ensembles with elements borrowed, not from the reality of vision, but from the reality of consciousness. Every man has the perception of this inner reality. It is not necessary, for example, to be a man of culture to conceive of a round form. The geometrical aspect which so vividly impressed those who saw the first scientific canvases came from the fact that the essential reality was given with great purity and that the visual accidents and anecdotes had been eliminated ” . He concluded : “ I love the art of today because above all else I love the light and all men love light—above all else Man invented fire ” .
Portrait of Jean Metzinger (Man with a Tulip) . 1906. Oil on canvas, 72.39 x 48.58 cm. Private collection
This portrait is one of a series that Delaunay and Metzinger painted of each other – they often painted together during the summer of 1906 and in 1907. A close friendship united the two artists during this collaborative experimentation and the portrait of Metzinger shows the subtle complicity between them. Created during Delaunay’s Neo-Impressionist period, he used large, mosaic-like rectangles, leaving small areas of the surface blank in this portrait. It betrays the influence of Seurat’s pointillism, whom Delaunay much admired.
The influence of the young Fauvist movement – founded in 1904 - also emerges as an obvious part of this portrait, by placing the emphasis on the artistic qualities and compliment opposite colours, adjacently to each other over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism.
Robert-Victor-Félix Delaunay was born in Paris on April 12, 1885, to eccentric upper-class parents. George Delaunay and Countess Berthe Félicie de Rose, his parents, divorced when he was only four years old. His mother’s claims to be part of the French aristocracy had failed to be substantiated. As she was more interested in fashionable evening parties than in family life, it was decided that Robert’s aunt, his mother’s sister Marie and her husband Charles Damour would raise the child in a grand estate in La Ronchère (near Bourges) in central France; thereafter, Robert rarely saw his father.
Robert was a mediocre pupil at the high school ‘Michelet’ of Vanves near Paris, who spent more of his time caricaturing his teachers and his schoolmates than studying mathematics or grammar. It, therefore, did not come as a surprise when he failed his final exam. His only desire was to become an artist. In 1902, at the age of 17, his uncle Charles decided to send him to the capital. In Paris, however, Robert did not pursue a classical education and did not receive any formal training as an artist. Instead, he apprenticed himself for two years to a theatre designer at the Ronsin’s studio in the Belleville district. Here he learned to create large-scale theatre sets, which would inform his later stage and mural work. After two years of working at Ronsin’s, Delaunay discovered that decorative arts were not his vocation and left to focus entirely on painting.
Robert Delaunay had taken up painting at an early age and by 1903, he was producing mature imagery in a confident, impressionistic style. In 1904, at only 19 years of age, he exhibited six of his works, landscapes and flowers, impressionist in inspiration, at the 20th Salon of the Independents and at the Salon d’Automne (autumn salon) founded the past year. His trip to Brittany acquainted him with the Pont-Aven group, home to the group of artists who were collectively referred to as Pont-Aven School and included artists like Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin. The style developed in Pont-Aven by Gauguin and Bernard was known as Synthetism as it was designed to synthesise or combine images, producing a new result which was quite different from Impressionism.
The following year, in 1905, Robert discovered Seurat and Van Gogh at the Independents, where he would exhibit regularly throughout his life. A year later, in 1906, Delaunay showed the works he had painted in Brittany at the 22nd Salon of the Independents. This is where he first met Henri Rousseau also known as Le Douanier (the customs officer) who was to become his life-long friend. For Delaunay, the painting of the late period of Henri Rousseau was one of the most important sources of the beginning of modernism and he owned a few paintings of Le Douanier.
In 1911, he even started writing a biography of Rousseau, which would never be completed. David Cottington explains: “ Delaunay finds that Rousseau uses a special combination of traditionalism and modernism characteristic of a typically French culture, a clean break from the academicism or the avant-garde, and which has for substratum the popular painting nourished by the perspectives of the working class, for which the trade plays a significant role. At the same time, Delaunay saw Cézanne as the bourgeois saboteur of forms, the other side of the coin. Rousseau and Cézanne are thus the two sources of modern art ” .
Rousseau died on the 2nd September 1910 from his gangrened leg. At his funeral, friends stood at his grave, around the tombstone on which the sculptor Brancusi had carved the epitaph composed by Guillaume Apollinaire:
“ We salute you, Gentle Rousseau, you can hear us.
Delaunay, his wife, Monsieur Queval and myself.
Let our luggage pass duty-free through the gates of heaven.
We will bring you brushes paints and canvas.
That you may spend your sacred leisure in the light and Truth of Painting.
As you once did my portrait facing the stars, lion and the gipsy. ”

Robert Delaunay , Self-Portrait [1909]. Oil on canvas, 73 x 60 cm. Centre Pompidou, Muée national d’art moderne - Centre de création industrielle, Paris. Donation Sonia Delaunay and Charles Delaunay, 1964.

Robert Delaunay , P ortrait of Douanier Rousseau , 1914. Oil on canvas, 72.5 x 60 cm. Centre Pompidou, Muée national d’art moderne - Centre de création industrielle, Paris. Gift of M. Paul Rosenberg, 1946.

Douanier Rousseau, Tropical Forest with Monkeys , 1910. Oil on canvas, 129.5 x 162.5 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Robert Delaunay, Landscape with disc , 1906. Oil on canvas, 54 x 46 cm. Centre Pompidou, Paris.
In 1906 and 1907, Robert Delaunay’s principal influence seems to be the Neo-Impressionism, but that has taken nothing away from his own distinctive personality. Subsequently, he was mainly influenced by Cézanne. Later he played an important part in the elaboration of the Cubist aesthetic creed, which he adapted after having studied in-depth the resources of Cézanne‘s art. At that time, Robert also became well acquainted with Metzinger, the two often painted together in 1906 and 1907. Both shared an exhibition in 1907, at the pioneering art gallery of Berthe Weill, who played a vital role in the twentieth-century art market. The influential French art critic Louis Vauxcelles drew up a eulogistic article on their performance, calling them “ Divisionists who used large, mosaic-like ‘cubes’ to construct small but highly symbolic compositions ” .
It was also during this period that Delaunay painted his first Landscape with Disc on the back of his self-portrait in a divisionist and fauvist style. It stands at the beginning of that transitional moment, serving both as a link to the past and an adumbrate for the future. His self-portrait, painted in 1906, is also marked by the influence of Jean Metzinger with its dividing touches and plain colours.
His military service in 1907 in Laon, a small town in northern France, kept Delaunay over the course of one year, away from the capital, but he was declared unsuitable for military service on medical grounds in 1908 (the duration of compulsory military service laid down in the Military Service Act was 5 years). During his stay in Laon, Delaunay made many drawings and sketches of the cathedral, one of the most important examples of the simultaneous architectural tradition of the 12th and 13th centuries. He also perfected his chiaroscuro techniques.
In 1907, Delaunay had discovered the Cubism of Braque and Picasso, and he began to associate with other artists for inspiration, including, Léger and Le Fauconnier. The first references to a school of Cubist painters occurred in the French press in 1910 at the Salon of the Independents in 1911, with Metzinger, Gleizes, Léger and Le Fauconnier and again, at the Salon d’Automne of that year.

Pablo Picasso, Nude (Bust) , 1907. Oil on canvas, 61 x 46.5 cm. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Georges Braque, Viaduct in Estaque , 1908. Oil on canvas, 72.5 x 59 cm. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges-Pompidou, Paris.
The year 1909 marked the meeting of Robert Delaunay and Sonia Terk and the confluence of two lives that were never to part. Sonia arrived in Paris at the age of twenty after a brief sojourn in an academy in Germany. According to Robert, she possessed an “atavistic sense of colour”. Her early works, already very personal, bore witness to her familiarity with Gauguin and Matisse and were brushed with strong, bright colours. She met Robert Delaunay at her first husband’s home, Wilhelm Uhde, a famous German art collector. Sonia said about Robert: „ In Robert Delaunay, I found a poet. A poet who wrote not with words but with colours ” .
Wilhelm Uhde, of German descent, was a gallery dealer, author, critic, as well as an early collector of modernist painting and a significant figure in the career of the Douanier Rousseau. Henri Terk, Sonia’s adoptive father, was a close friend of the homosexual Uhde, whom she had married in order to become a naturalised French citizen and to escape the demands of her parents, who disliked her artistic career and wanted her to return to Russia.
France was at that time a safer place for Uhde than Germany because section 175 was a provision of the German Criminal Code from 15 May 1871 to 10 March 1994, which made homosexual acts between men a crime. Understandably, Uhde happily accepted the divorce. The public marriage to Sonia had allowed Uhde to mask his homosexuality.

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