Sonia Delaunay’s Cross-Media Abstraction Restricted; Files Only

Glosser, Caitlin (Fall 2020)

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This dissertation examines the work created by the artist Sonia Delaunay between 1904-1926. Delaunay produced a broad range of work during this period, including textiles, paintings, prints, ballet and film costumes, book covers, and everyday objects. The diversity of her output has not been seriously considered in accounts of modern art history and the development of abstraction. Yet it is an integral part of her artistic practice, a practice that challenges our understanding of abstraction in significant ways. 

Delaunay adopts what I call a "cross-media approach" to develop her mode of abstraction, known as simultaneous contrasts. I demonstrate how Delaunay uses her cross-media approach in combination with simultaneous contrasts to achieve her goal of representing a world in which bodies, objects, and their surroundings intermingle. Crucially, the bodies in her work, whether figures represented in her paintings or real individuals wearing her fashion, are women. By eliding bodies with their surroundings, Delaunay imagines a world in which her designs empower female figures to actively move through and inhabit spaces. 

I argue that Delaunay’s cross-media practice subverts current accounts of abstraction in three significant ways. While painting is often privileged in these accounts, Delaunay’s aims necessitated the combination of a wide variety of media. Her insistent use of figures and bodies rejects the convention that the goal of abstraction is to rid representation of the object. Finally, a key extension to her cross-media approach is her collaboration with other artists and poets. Delaunay invested in active exchange and conversation between herself and her peers to an extent that does not easily fit a model of history that privileges firsts made by individual actors. By showing how her works, from her early portraits, to her simultaneous dresses, to her artists books, are all geared towards achieving a particular connection between bodies, objects, and the world, I make a case for her position as a significant creator among the most serious artists of her generation.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

The Problem of the Portraits: Delaunay's Early Paintings 11

Delaunay's New Approach: Thinking Across Media 47

A Cross-Media Collaboration: Le Premier Livre Simultané 80

A Cross-Media History: Delaunay's 1925 Book 130

Conclusion 175

Bibliography 183

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