Robert Delaunay was born in 1885. Delaunay didn’t have any formal training however he did participate in a set design apprenticeship. This experience influenced Delaunay’s later mural work and stage sets. Later in Delaunay’s life, around 1903, Robert moved to Paris where he met with Jean Metzinger whom he collaborated with on mosaic like outcomes. These outcomes were influenced by the likes of Georges Seurat and his divisionist approach to art.
Divisionism is a neo-impressionist technique which fragments colours to create an optical effect. When viewed from a distance the fragmented planes of colour should blur together to create a cohesive painting. The divisionist technique involves the artist using pure colour strategically placed which allows the viewers eye to blend the shades together creating tone and depth. This is a particular interest of mine as it uses colour to create shape and form.
This technique is used in Delaunay’s painting L’Homme a la tulipe, 1906; a portrait of Jean Metzinger which is painted in oil on canvas. This painting uses rectangular brush strokes of pure, complimentary colours which create depth and contrast. Furthermore, the use of orange and blue tones gives the painting a cheery, upbeat mood which is contrasted by Jean Metzingers calm and rigid appearance in the portrait. Moreover, Delaunay uses rough and unprecise brush strokes, this makes the painting appear to be unnatural and stylised. The unnatural nature of the painting has themes of Fauvist influences.
Fauvists are characterized through their use of unnatural colours and aggressive brush strokes. They were concerned with complementary colours which are a key feature of Delaunay’s paintings thus they bear a likeness with the Fauvist movement. When complementary colours and placed together it makes the colour look brighter and more intense, which Delaunay achieves in L’Homme la Tulipe.
This movement in technique allowed for artists to abandon the traditional technique of painting which focused on the creation of realistic paintings which had a likeness to reality for a more unconventional way of painting which used flat placements of colour to create depth and shifted away from the fascination of creating photorealistic outcomes; instead focusing on innovation and creation. This divisionist approach was the stepping stone for future techniques such as cubism and orphism. As Delaunay explored the diversionist technique it evoked a fascination within Delaunay on the relationship between colours. Delaunay wished to explore how colours interact with each other when placed side-by-side compared to how the colour appears singularly. This experimentation was when Delaunay was collaborating with Metzinger.
To explore the relationship between colours Delaunay exaggerated the pointillist technique to create an abstracted series in which the colours are the main focus. Furthermore, Delaunay was also concerned with the Cubist theme of spatial planes, Delaunay wished to convey four dimensions in his paintings. Through the exploration of four dimensions cubists intended to depict all dimensions simultaneously on one subject. Delaunay explored this technique in his Eiffel tower series. This is similar to what Picasso was experimenting with at the time. However, unlike Picasso, Delaunay was more so concerned with light and colour opposed to perspective. Delaunay used colour to depict movement and light, as light creates geometric spatial planes when it interacts with a subject.
As geometry has a profound effect on the relationship of colour, Delaunay juxtaposed the ideology of the cubist movement with a divisionist technique, thus, creating the Orphist movement. The orphistic movement focused on abstracting geometric shapes and the use of bright, contrasting colours. Delaunay’s Eiffel tower series was a prime example of Orphism, first explored between 1909 and 1912 and later between 1920 and 1930. Robert stated that the Eiffel tower was used as a barometer for his art, as it is a consistent subject in his paintings which can be easily compared to one another. Mark Roesenthal the author of Visions of Paris: Robert Delaunay’s Series, quotes that Delaunay had “…studied it from above, and below, inside and out, from near and far, by day and by night. He absorbed its every mood, perspective, and light effect.
” The Eiffel tower as a subject was a token for the urban modern age of innovation and geometric forms. The use of the Eiffel tower allowed Delaunay to project his view and ideology of Paris into his paintings. Gathering from the use of bright colours in this series it is evident that Delaunay was optimistic about the progression and innovation which was taking place in Paris. One may compare this depiction to Georges Seurat’s: Tour Eiffel, 1889, which is duller in colour and less sharp than Delaunay’s depiction.
This suggests that Georges Seurat didn’t share the same optimism for Paris as Delaunay did. A similarity in the technique used for both Eiffel tower paintings is that both artists had a scientific approach to art, more specifically both were keen on exploring colour theory. Delaunay’s series became more abstracted as time went on, In Effiel Tower, 1910, Delaunay continued his theme of separating and fragmenting as he did in his colour choices in L’Homme la Tulipe except now Delaunay chose to deconstruct the subject i.e. the Eiffel tower. He does so by dismantling and rearranging lines and shapes in the composition, this is comparable to the cubist technique. To the viewer it is apparent that the form of the Eiffel tower isn’t wholly solid and is rather unstable and rickety.
This technique allows the viewer to perceive movement in the painting and it highlights the lack of rigidity and the growing freedom and creativity of Delaunay’s innovative way of painting. Delaunay’s key feature of all his work is the use of contrasting colour. He explained simultaneous colours as “…a certain combination of colors, in harmonic contrast with each other, can reproduce the movement of light.
” Furthermore, the contrasting colours push back and forward the other relating colour planes, thus creating movement in his paintings. During the same period of time, another contributor to the orphism movement was Robert Delaunay’s wife, Sonia Delaunay. She created outcomes in a similar style, however, unlike Robert, Sonia didn’t limit herself to painting and crafts she also explored fashion, film, design, poetry and written arts. Through this exploration Sonia Delaunay wished to explore themes of colour, composition and shape. This exploration strikes a resemblance to my own outcomes.
I have studied and created various outcomes which have allowed me to contextualise how colour effects shapes. Sonia Delaunay was encouraged by her aunt and uncle to study art who urged Delaunay to go to a German art school at the age of eighteen. When Delaunay was twenty she transferred to Paris to study art further. Paris during this time was the core of the avant-garde art movement in Europe.
Throughout her studies Delaunay was heavily inspired by Post-Impressionists and was a contributor the Cubist movement whom were exploring depicting four-dimensional planes of geometric colour. Delaunay’s studies were also sympathetic to Futurist ideologies who were concerned with innovation and changing the path of the evolution of traditional work into a more abstract and emotion fueled outcome. Delaunay was also inspired by the aesthetics of Fauvists and the colours that they used in their art. During this period of time Sonia Delaunay explored the fundamentals of these movements in her own figurative art, this exploration featured the use of an unrealistic colour scheme. Delaunay wished to investigate colour further, this is when she found her affinity towards abstract art. Near the end of her art career Delaunay explained that she ‘..
.was searching for something within herself and little by little it became abstract painting.” The pioneering art piece for this exploration was the quilt she made for her child in 1911. Delaunay used traditional quilting techniques from Russia to create the quilt. The shapes used have a resemblance to the Cubist four-dimensional planes.
This quilt was what Delaunay was searching for, as the perfect foundation for her future abstractions. A further inspiration for Delaunay was when she and Robert Delaunay would walk around Paris and observe the lights of the city. They would discuss how light would interact with the colours around them and the effect it had on form. The Delaunay’s would become inspired by the patterns and light forms the synthetic lighting would create and they would transfer this inspiration into their art. They would later describe this form of painting as simultaneous, this was a declaration to the interaction between the colours and shape in their compositions.