Term invented by artist Robert Delaunay to describe the abstract painting developed by him and his wife Sonia Delaunay from about 1910

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The term simultanism is derived from the theories of Michel Eugène Chevreul whose book of colour theory De la loi du contraste simultanée des couleurs (On the law of the simultaneous contrast of colours) was published in Paris in 1839. Chevreul identified the phenomenon of colours looking different depending on the colours around them. His ideas had an increasing impact on French painters from then on, particularly the impressionists and post-Impressionists generally, and especially the neo-Impressionists.

The Delaunays’ paintings consisted of interlocking or overlapping patches, or planes, of contrasting (or complementary) colours. In Chevreul’s theory, and in reality, contrasting colours brought together (i.e. simultaneous) enhance each other, giving the painting greater intensity and vibrance of colour.

The Delaunays’ compositions were initially derived from architecture, (for example in Robert Delaunay’s Windows series), but by 1912 he had begun to make paintings in totally abstract circular formats (Disques and Formes circulaires cosmiques series) aiming to create rhythm, motion and depth through overlapping patches of vibrant hues. These compositions were still ultimately based on nature however, and in 1912 Delaunay wrote: ‘Direct observation of the luminous essence of nature is for me indispensable’.

Their work was also named orphism by the poet and critic Apollinaire.

Sonia Delaunay in focus

The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay
Read the online guide to the 2015 exhibition at Tate Modern, the first UK retrospective to assess the breadth of Delaunay’s vibrant artistic practice across a wide range of media. Take a look at what artworks are on display.

Who is Sonia Delaunay?
This article introduces the artist, her key pieces and her views on colour and religion.

Love, friendship and rivalry: Delaunay’s circle
We look at Delaunay’s social circle in Paris and three men who greatly influenced her – Wilhelm Uhde, Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars.

‘We will go right up to the sun’
Read our Tate Etc. article about the life and work of Sonia Delaunay, written by Juliet Bingham, curator of The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay. 

Other perspectives

Pure explosions of finesse
Tate Etc. asked fashion designer Duro Olowu to talk about his long admiration for Sonia Delauney. 

The Art of Instagram: Tanya Ling
Inspired by Sonia Delaunay’s use of pattern and colour, artist Tanya Ling takes over Tate’s Instagram and discusses her manipulation of the grid format to produce compositions that combine illustration, painting, sculpture and photography

The multi-talented Delaunay
Tate Etc. asked fellow artist, Sheila Hicks, to talk about her long admiration for Delaunay.

Pinterest: Pattern Power
Take a look at out our Sonia Delaunay-inspired Pinterest board, pinned by Tate and guest influential pinners.

Related glossary terms

Réalités nouvelles, abstract art, orphism, complementary colours