This book, Color Moves: Art & Fashion by Sonia Delaunay, is actually the catalog for an exhibition of her work in textiles that was put on by Cooper-Hewitt in 2011. Delaunay is remembered mainly for her colorful paintings, but for much of her career she designed clothing, and especially textiles. She and her husband Robert Delaunay worked with their theory of “simultaneity” – the sense of movement that is created when certain colors are positioned in certain ways. This theory extended to her work in textiles.
After seeing Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes: When Art Danced with Music at the National Gallery, I wanted to learn more about Sonia Delaunay’s work in textiles. In 1918 she designed the costumes for Cleopatra, some of which were displayed in the Ballets Russes exhibition.
As Sonia told the story, she became interested in working in textiles when, in 1911, she made a patchwork quilt for her baby. From there she began to use the theory of simultaneity in their home in the form of cushions and such.
In 1913 Sonia made her first simultaneous dress which was also a patchwork creation. She then went on to design dresses and costumes for a business called Casa Sonia, which was located in Madrid where the family spent the war years.
After the war the family returned to Paris, where Sonia began working on collaborations with poets. Above are two of her “robes poemes” which were meant to be poems in motion.
The fashion work that we usually see from Delaunay came about in 1925, with the creation of Maison Delaunay. It was not a shop in the strict sense of the word. For a while she had a temporary show, along with Jacques Heim, but after the show closed, she operated out of her house and a small atelier. The coat above was created for Gloria Swanson.
These swimsuits were created by Sonia between 1925 and 1929.
Much of what you read about Sonia Delaunay says that she gave up fashion and returned to painting after 1929. But actually, she continued on designing textiles, mainly for a Dutch company, Metz & Co. In 1929 Dalaunay formed Tissues Delaunay which was for the purpose of textile designs. Many of these designed were produced by Metz, but other companies bought and made her designs as well including the American firm Foreman Foremort.
Throughout most of the 1930s, Sonia sold designs to Metz & Co. The company was sold in 1973, but the family who had owned Metz & Co had kept their family archives (in the basement!), and art historian Petra Timmer (who wrote some of the text for this book) was able to track down the company records which included the sample books and records. In the book above, you can see a sample of Delaunay’s work in paint next to the printed fabric samples.
Not only did the Metz & Co records survive, but Sonia’s record books, which she kept in black notebooks survive as well. Historians have been able to match up the work in her livres noir to the samples in the Metz & Co records.
To me, this is a real strength of this book, as the reader is shown the original art from Sonia along with the finished work from Metz & Co.
On the left above are the Delaunay original designs (1929), along with her color samples, and on the right are the finished silks from Metz & Co (1930).
This swirl design dates from 1934 and you can see the various design drawings along with the finished textile.
Sonia’s design work and notes are on the left, and the printed cotton is on the right.
Here we see Sonia’s designs along with a necktie made from the finished silk.
Often Metz & Co would buy and produce designs from years past. In the case above, Sonia painted the design in 1927, but the fabric was produced in 1936.
After WWII, Sonia Delaunay again designed fabrics, but by the early 1950s her reputation as a painter had grown to the point that she was able to make a living doing what she loved best. But she never completely gave up design work, and occasionally did designs for textiles and books and such. Some of her designs were used by her old friend, Jacques Heim in his fashion work. Probably your best best of finding a vintage Delaunay piece is in the form of scarves she designed for Liberty & Co. in the late 1960s. That’s one on the left. Some are signed, whereas others are not.
Photo copyright and courtesy of The Way We Wore®
And here is where I share my own sad Sonia Delaunay story. The unlabeled hat and scarf above were sold by vintage dealer Doris Raymond several years ago. When she found them, she suspected they were Delaunay pieces, and she was able to get them authenticated by a member of her family. I actually posted about them at the time they were for sale.
Back in March, Doris starred in a reality show about her shop. She was talking about how things can be found in the most unlikely places. As an example she mentioned the Sonia Delaunay pieces she found in Asheville, NC. I almost fell out of my seat, and then I tried really hard not to cry. I’m positive I did not see them anywhere before she bought them, but still, to think they were so close. Heartbreak!
To see more of Sonia Delauneay’s work, check out what you can find on Pinterest.