An extraordinarily prolific and innovative artist, Sonia Terk Delaunay produced easel paintings; public murals; theatrical, graphic, fashion, and interior designs; and designs for playing cards, ceramics, mosaics, and stained glass during her long career.
She was born Sarah Stern (nicknamed Sonia) in Ukraine, where her father was a factory worker. At five, Sonia went to live with a wealthy uncle in St. Petersburg and took his surname, Terk. Sonia Terk studied art in Karlsruhe, Germany, and also, beginning in 1905, in Paris, where she spent most of the rest of her life. In 1910 she married the French painter Robert Delaunay, with whom she had a son.
Both Delaunays are associated with orphism (also called simultaneism), an offshoot of cubism that they developed jointly in 1911. Like cubism, the Delaunays' approach to art is abstract, yet based on the real world. Unlike the mainly monochrome cubist works by Picasso and Braque, orphism consists of bright hues and bold, repeating patterns, based in part on the Russian folk art Sonia Delaunay had known as a young girl. In 1918 she designed her first set of costumes for Sergei Diaghilev's famous Ballets Russes. Thereafter, while Robert concentrated on painting, Sonia Delaunay created costumes and sets for various theatrical organizations. She also designed "total environments," including, for example, the interior of a Paris clothing boutique, plus the dresses, accessories, and furs sold there.
From the 1950s on, Delaunay received numerous awards for her work. In 1964 she became the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre, and in 1975 she was named an officer of the French Legion of Honor.