20/04/2015 07:37 BST | Updated 19/06/2015 06:59 BST

Exhibition Review: Sonia Delaunay, Tate Modern

The Tate has opened a wonderful new exhibition on Sonia Delaunay, the exciting avant-garde artist whose bright and colourful works spanned not just painting, but also textiles, fashion, theatre and design.


The Tate has opened a wonderful new exhibition on Sonia Delaunay, the exciting avant-garde artist whose bright and colourful works spanned not just painting, but also textiles, fashion, theatre and design.

Sonia was a key figure in the Parisian avant-garde movement of the 20th century yet this is the first ever retrospective of her work here in the UK. And as you wander through the galleries, astounded not just by the quality in breadth but also in depth, you're left wondering not just how come this is the first retrospective, but why is it this artist is not more well-known as Sonia Delaunay is certainly not a household name.

Sonia made her name in Paris but she had travelled widely before she arrived in the French capital in 1906. She was born in Ukraine, then part of the Russian empire, before travelling to St Petersburg for school. She was eventually adopted by her wealthy uncle and travelled around Europe during her holidays. Her artistic talent became obvious so at 18, she moved to Germany to study art. And then on from there to Paris.


When she arrived in Paris, she was very much a figurative painter, already impressing with stunning works such as Yellow Nude, 1908, a stunning female nude provocatively posed but with a lurid yellow skin and citric pink cheeks, and Young Finnish Girl, 1907, a painting of topless adolescent girl, awkwardly posed with a deathly grey pallor to her body and a flushed face.

But Sonia's passion for art would drive her constant curiosity for new ideas, for experimenting with both technique and materials, so with her husband, artist Robert Delaunay, she developed Simultaneism - a fusion of abstract compositions with vibrant shapes and colours.

The works from this period are amongst the highlights of the show. Sonia's Electric Prisms, 1914, with its overlapping fragmented circles of reds, greens and blues, is her representation of new electric street lights on Boulevard Saint-Michel. And I loved Le Bul Bullier, 1913, a painting that represents tango dancers through curved brightly coloured shapes swirling across the canvas.


Sonia was fearless with innovation and development, both in society and artistically. She set up an atelier in Paris, Simultané, which produced fresh, contemporary designs for all kinds of accessories and costumes, not just for stars such as Gloria Swanson but also stage productions such as Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

Sonia also embraced reflecting these new developments artistically and this exhibition includes Motor, Dashboard and Propeller, the vast murals she created for the 1937 International Exposition in Paris and never before shown in the UK.

Curator Juliet Bingham has done a terrific job of showcasing the extraordinary variety of Sonia's work. Her bright and vivid colour palette dominates the mosaics on the floor as much as the canvases on the walls. And Sonia's vibrant fabrics and wallpaper designs mix beautifully with the collages and bathing costumes, parasols and tapestries, even poetry embroidered onto blankets.


With its superb Marlene Dumas show in the other exhibition hall, the Tate Modern has given a significant platform to female artists and that should be applauded. But what should also be noted is that these two exhibitions are also amongst the best in town right now - and that is something that should not go overlooked by other galleries.

Tate Modern, London to August 9, 2015

Admission £14.50 (concessions available)

Image Credits:

1. Sonia Delaunay Yellow Nude 1908 Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Nantes © Pracusa 2014083

2. Sonia Delaunay Simultaneous Dresses (The three women) 1925 Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid © Pracusa 2014083

3. Prismes electriques 1914 © Pracusa 2013057 © CNAP

4. Sonia Delaunay Propeller (Air Pavilion) 1937 Skissernas Museum, Lund, Sweden © Pracusa 2014083 Photo: Emma Krantz