Robert Delaunay was born on April 12th, 1885 in Paris, France. In 1902, when Delaunay failed his final exam and decided to become a painter, his uncle sent him to Ronsin’s atelier to study decorative arts. Two years later, he left to focus on his painting and contributed six works to the Salon des Indépendants. By 1905, Delaunay was under the influence of the Neo-Impressionists’ use of color; in the following two years, he and Jean Metzinger developed a sub-style of Neo-Impressionism that would become an integral part of their Cubism periods. In 1908, after serving a term in the military, Delaunay met Sonia Terk, who was married to the German art dealer Wilhelm Uhde. In 1909, Delaunay abandoned the spectral colors of Neo-Impressionism and began contributing to Cubism with the Saint-Séverin series (1909-1910) and the Eiffel Tower series (1909-1912), among others. These works combined fragmented Cubist forms with dynamic movement and vibrant color. In 1910, Delaunay married Sonia Terk and moved to Paris. The following year, he was invited to join Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”), the renown group of Munich-based group of abstract artists that included Wassily Kandinsky.
Delaunay’s first major exhibition was held at the Galerie Barbazanges in Paris in 1912. It included 46 works, spanning from his early Impressionist period to his Cubist. This was also the year that the world noticed his break from strict Cubism, and affinity for something different: his work from 1912-14 focused heavily on abstraction and bright colors, in a style he developed with his wife, called Orphism. Delaunay’s writings on color were intuitive, and influenced by scientists and theoreticians. He believed that painting was purely visual and depended on intellectual elements, and that vision was the subject of painting. The contrasts and harmonies that color produces stimulate simultaneous movements in the eye, corresponding to movement found in nature.
At the beginning of World War I, the Delaunays moved from Hondarribia, Spain to Madrid, instead of returning to France; later, they moved to Portugal. In 1916, the French consulate in Vigo declared Delaunay a deserter, and therefore unfit for military duty. The Russian Revolution ended Sonia’s financial support from her family, and sent the Delaunays in search of steady income. In 1917, the couple met Sergei Diaghilev in Madrid, where Robert designed the stage for his production of Cleopatra, and Sonia designed the costumes.
Der Sturm gallery in Berlin showed works from the Delaunays’ Portuguese period in 1920. The couple finally returned to Paris in 1921, where Robert Delaunay continued his abstract work and, with the collaboration of his wife, helped design the railway and air travel pavilions for the 1937 World Fair. At the outbreak of World War II, the Delaunays moved to Auvergne in order to avoid the Germans. Robert’s body, already stricken with cancer, reacted negatively to the stress of the move, and he died in Montpellier on October 25th, 1941. He was reburied in Gambais in 1952.