Robert Delaunay

Endless Rhythm

1934

On display at Tate Modern

Original title
Rythme sans fin
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1619 x 1302 mm
frame: 1644 x 1332 x 45 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1970
Reference
T01233

Summary

Endless Rhythm 1934 is a large, vertically orientated painting by the French artist Robert Delaunay. Three coloured disks painted on a pale blue ground move rhythmically in a strong diagonal from the bottom left to the top right of the canvas. The main body of each disk is made up of thick undulating black and white lines. The black line connects with the white causing a twisting effect which sends the eye around the composition in an endless loop. A further sense of movement is created by a central line of red, greens, blue and yellow which ripples through the centre of the disks, disrupting but also linking their forms. The blue and yellow of this line is echoed in the thin lines of each colour traced delicately around the bottom and top disks. The round centre of each disk is split into two hemispheres of alternate colour – the soft blue of the ground and a muted grey. The intersection of these hemispheres forms the only straight line in an otherwise soft, curving composition.

It is likely that Endless Rhythm was created in Delaunay’s studio at 3 Rue des Grands- Augustins in Paris. Oil paint has been applied to the canvas in a series of controlled, rhythmic lines. The painting was significantly reworked by the artist during production; there is evidence that the disks originally moved from lower right to top left. Various titles and dates have been attributed to the work. In a letter dated 4 August 1971 Delaunay’s wife Sonia stated that it was painted in 1934. She also had the painting listed as Endless Rhythm in her own records and considered it the most fitting title. This painting was first exhibited in 1955 as Rythme 1935 in the exhibition Robert Delaunay at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Liège.

Endless Rhythm focuses on geometric shapes and the use of contrasting colour. Delaunay’s interest in the intersections of music, visual art and colour theory had long dominated his work. In December 1912 he described the emphasis of his newly developed abstract art (called simultanism and rechristened orphism by his friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire), which was derived from his earlier cubist style: ‘the simultaneity of colours through simultaneous contrasts and through all the (uneven) quantities that emanate from the colours, in accordance with the way they are expressed in the movement represented – that is the only reality one can construct through painting’. (Quoted in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds.), Art in Theory 1900–2000, Oxford 2003, p.153.)

In Endless Rhythm Delaunay moved towards total abstraction, away from his existing ideas that colour could be used to achieve a ‘visual reorganisation of the contemporary world’ (quoted in exhibition leaflet, Centre Pompidou 2014, p.2, accessed 15 May 2016). This painting saw a revival of his profound interest in fully abstract geometric forms, as seen in The First Disk 1912 (private collection). Unlike earlier images in which the disk had cosmic significance, however, in Endless Rhythm the shapes are the form; they have a solid, internal architecture of their own and coexist as defined objects. This painting demonstrates a continuation of Delaunay’s belief that ‘colour is form and subject’ (Delaunay, quoted in Alan Bowness, Modern European Art, London 1997, p.120), foregrounding an emerging conviction regarding the constructive power of colour (see exhibition leaflet, Centre Pompidou 2014, p.3, accessed 15 May 2016).

Compositionally, Endless Rhythm is almost identical to Rhythms 1934 (Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture, Grenoble), which is considered to postdate this larger image. Endless Rhythm is part of a wider series of works (entitled Rythmes sans fin), each of which used the contrasts between black and white and colour to create a formal energy across the painting’s composition. Rythme sans fin 1934 (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris) is another example from this series. Furthermore, in 1937 Delaunay designed a vast Rythme sans fin mural for the Palais d’Air pavilion of the International Exposition, Paris.

Delaunay’s colour-based abstractions, including Endless Rhythm, may have been stimulated by his close association with Piet Mondrian and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, who were part of groups such as Abstraction Création and Cercle et Carré (Hoog 1976, p.89). His work is strongly connected with that of his wife, Sonia Delaunay, who also pursued non-objective abstraction, often focusing on disks (see, for example, Triptych 1963, Tate T00817). Delaunay’s work also proved influential in the development of op art and kinetic art.

Further reading
Michel Hoog, Robert Delaunay, Naefels 1976.
Robert Delaunay: Rythmes Sans Fin, exhibition leaflet, Centre Pompidou, Paris 2014, https://www.centrepompidou.fr/media/document/, accessed 15 May 2016.
Angela Lampe, Robert Delaunay: Rythmes sans fin, exhibition catalogue, Centre Pompidou, Paris 2014.

Jo Kear
May 2016

Supported by Christie’s.

Display caption

The coloured discs strung out diagonally across the picture are so arranged that each one leads on to the next and the movement is directed back again into the picture at the two ends. Perhaps because of this infinitely looping effect, the artist’s wife Sonia considered Endless Rhythm to be the most appropriate title. The year after painting this, Delaunay was commissioned to paint murals for the Aeronautics pavilion at the 1937 Paris International Exhibition; the resulting compositions included discs, rings and colour rhythms on a huge scale.

Gallery label, February 2016

Catalogue entry

Robert Delaunay 1885-1941

T01233 Rythme sans Fin (Endless Rhythm) 1934

Not inscribed
Oil on canvas, 63 3/4 x 51 1/4 (162 x 130)
Purchased from Alan Power (Grant-in-Aid) 1970
Prov: Mme Sonia Delaunay, Paris; with Galerie Beyeler, Basle, 1955; G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh; with Galerie Beyeler, Basle; Alan Power, London
Exh: Robert Delaunay, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Liège, April-May 1955 (24) as 'Rythme' 1935; Robert Delaunay, Galerie Beyeler, Basle, March-April 1956 (31, repr. as 28) as 'Rythme sans Fin' 1935-7; R. Delaunay, Städtisches Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen, June-July 1956 (73) as 'Endloser Rythmus' 1934; Kunsthalle, Mannheim, July-August 1956 (73); Thompson Pittsburgh, Kunsthaus, Zurich, October-November 1960 (24); Sammlung G. David Thompson, Kunstmuseum, Düsseldorf, December 1960-January 1961 (24); Collection Thompson uit Pittsburgh, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, February-April 1961 (23); One Hundred Paintings from the G. David Thompson Collection, Guggenheim Museum, New York, May-August 1961 (works not numbered); Collezione G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh, USA, Museo Civico, Turin, October-November 1961 (22)
Lit: Robert Delaunay, Du Cubisme à l'Art Abstrait (Paris 1957), No.326, p.302 as 'Rythme' 1935-7
Repr: Gustav Vriesen and Max Imdahl, Robert Delaunay - Licht und Farbe (Cologne 1967), pl.31

This picture, which does not appear to have been exhibited in the artist's lifetime, is sometimes known as 'Rhythm' and sometimes as 'Endless Rhythm', and has been variously dated 1934, 1935 and 1935-7, but according to Sonia Delaunay (letter of 4 August 1971) was painted in 1934. It appears in her own records as No.583 under the title 'Endless Rhythm', which she considered to be the most appropriate title. The coloured discs strung out diagonally across the picture are so arranged that each one leads on to the next and the movement is directed back again into the picture at the two ends.

There is a very similar but smaller and slightly sketchier painting in the Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture at Grenoble which is signed and dated on the back 'r. delaunay 1934'. Known as 'Rhythms', it is No.301 in the Habasque catalogue and is in oil on millboard, 61 x 47 cm. The composition is almost the same except that the lower left disc is cut by the picture edge both at the bottom and on the left. The colours are virtually identical. That it is more likely to be a later, revised version than a preliminary study is borne out by the fact that the Tate's picture shows signs of extensive reworking (notably pentimenti which indicate that the shapes were originally in the opposite diagonal direction), whereas the picture at Grenoble was painted in a very fresh, direct way, as though the artist knew exactly what he wanted to do.

T01233 appears to have been rolled while still semi-dry and was clearly kept rolled for some years.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.162-3, reproduced p.162


Explore