Robert Delaunay was born in Paris on April 12, 1885, into a prominent family descended from French aristocracy; his mother used the name"Countess." His parents divorced when he was four years old, and an uncle and aunt then raised him. An uninspired student, Delaunay didn't pursue an education and rather apprenticed himself to a theatre designer. Unlike the majority of the young painters of his generation, he had no formal art training. In 1910 he married Sonia Terk, a Russian painter who became a lifelong collaborator and continued to work on shared thoughts long after his death from cancer in 1941.
A prolific painter from a young age, Delaunay revealed from the Salon exhibitions, the most significant official shows in France, in his early 20s. He incorporated much of this restlessness of artwork throughout the first decade of the 20th century in his early work, passing by a Pointillist, a Nabi, then a Fauve stage. It had been about 1912 that Delaunay came to feel that light could be expressed as pure colour independent of any target material. He announced that "colour alone is form and content."
This idea ran counter to the Cubist thoughts of Pablo Picasso and Braque, who had been interested in the analysis of physical form than in light. Cubist paintings between 1907 and 1913 are static and sculptural without solid colour, whereas Delaunay's paintings of the same period are fluid and multi-chromatic. He started a series of paintings of the Eiffel Tower left in swinging arcs of colour that suggest motion. The Cubists accused Delaunay of reverting to the optical effects of Cezanne, while Delaunay claimed he was doing"pure" paintings which expressed the dynamism of the 20th century.
In 1913 he started a series of paintings of coloured discs which do not have any reference to any item and therefore are considered trademark paintings in the development of abstract or nonobjective art. The poet Guillaume Apollinaire called Delaunay's new type of abstract work"Orphism" about the artist Orpheus in Greek mythology whose songs had magical powers. Early abstract artists found strong connections between their music and work since neither depended upon the imitation of phenomena found in the natural world.
Delaunay's belief in the primacy of colour over shape put him closer in temperament to the German Expressionist painters compared to Cubists working in France. He was captured in Spain at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, and he remained there and in Portugal with his wife and their son until 1921.
During this period he met Russian exiles Sergei Diaghilev, producer and choreographer of the famed Ballets/Russes, along with the composer Igor Stravinsky. In 1918 the Delaunays designed costumes and decoration for a Diaghilev production of Cleopatra. His wife worked along lines very similar to her husband, using their theories of colour simultaneity--the interaction of colours in relationship to one another--to design in addition to painting. She made clothes, fabric, wall-covering, upholstery, and furniture covered with patches of colour. She had a car painted in this manner that was regarded as a shocking and innovative expansion of an idea from the avant-garde to the world-at-large.
Back in Paris after the war, Delaunay resumed painting in a semi-figurative manner somewhat in contradiction to his ancient theories of nonobjective art. He exhibited little in this time, and it's thought to be a period of regression in his job. He also painted frescos for which he devised new methods for mixing additives to paint to create unusual textures and colours. He worked with painter Fernand Leger on murals for the International Exposition of Decorative Arts, and he made stage and film sets. In his 30s he continued to perform commissioned wall paintings, finishing a mural in the Palais des Chemin de Fer and in the Salon des Tuileries.
He had been a prominent spokesperson for a particular viewpoint at a time of much artistic fermentation in the years preceding World War I. Unlike such other highly regarded artists of the period as Picasso, Matisse, and Wassily Kandinsky, he didn't sustain the innovations that pushed him into the limelight in his childhood into his later work. Because of this, his painting appears to be uneven after 1920 and his most critical work from the 1930s has been murals and public commissions, an expansion of his wife's early experiments. Following his death in 1941 she continued to work prodigiously, designing books, tapestries, and fabrics, in addition to interior decors and murals. Her job, as an extension of her husband's notions and ancient discoveries, helped to establish his reputation as a substantial painter of the 20th century.