Sonia Delaunay was born in 1885 as Sara Stern to Jewish parents in Odessa. At the age of five she was adopted by her wealthy uncle, Henri Terk, and her name was changed to Sofia Terk, though she was always known as Sonia.
Removed from relatively modest surroundings, she grew up among the intellectual circles of the St Petersburg bourgeoisie. She learned languages such as English, German and French, and travelled extensively in Europe. Her visits to museums and galleries helped to develop an early interest in art.
In 1904, she attended the Art Academy in Karlsruhe, Germany, and two years later moved to Paris where she continued her studies at the Académie de la Palette. It was a pivotal moment in the development of modern art in Paris, shortly after the first Fauvist exhibition at the Salon d’Automne.
Sonia’s early paintings show the influence of Paul Gauguin and German expressionists such as the Die Brucke group. They include a number of portraits of friends, including her dressmaker Philomène, while the studies of Finnish women recall time at her family’s summer residence in Novaya-Kirka. In works such as Young Finnish Woman 1907, the use of bold, vivid colours and the darker contour of the figures show her breaking free from academic convention.
Around this time Sonia met the dealer Wilhelm Uhde, who had exhibited works by Braque, Derain and Picasso among others. A year later, Sonia and Uhde were married. It was a mutually convenient arrangement for Uhde, who was homosexual, and Sonia, who wanted to remain in Paris. Her first exhibition was in Uhde’s gallery in 1908.