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Born in a Shtetl

An Essay on Sonia Delaunay and her Jewishness

Tom Sandqvist

Sonia Delaunay is one of the most important artists of the early twentieth century, whose contribution to European Modernism was fundamental, if not always fully acknowledged in its own right. She is known for translating her experiments via painting into the realm of fashion, interior design and crafts and, thus, consciously transcending the boundaries between fine and applied art. The focus within mainstream art history has been her relationship with her husband Robert Delaunay. Tom Sandqvist shifts this focus on her Jewish roots and sheds a light on the influence of growing up in the typical Eastern European shtetl, which has not attracted any special attention in the analysis of Delaunay’s art. Tom Sandqvist reflects on the impact of Judaism on Sonia Delaunay’s œuvre, with a special focus on her early contributions to Simultanism and Orphism within the interwar Parisian Avant-Garde.

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On the Trans-Siberian Railroad


If Guillaume Apollinaire gave most of his friends the impressionism of being intellectually tight and at least seemingly theoretically consequent, all the same being considered roguish and full of humour, pretty like a turncoat, Blaise Cendrars was the born bohemian at home everywhere, careless, slipshod, impulsive, with the eternal cigarette in the corner of his mouth and his hands thrust deep into his pockets, always dressed as baggy as shabby corduroys. Cendrars was a wandering soul, the nomad born in a Francophile Swiss family in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Neuchâtel sending their son to a German boarding school, after lousy certificates to a French school then in Neuchâtel. His father was a professor of mathematics but also an adventurous businessman à la Scholem Aleichem’s Menahem Mendl pinning his faith on an ever flourishing tourist industry in Egypt, at the same time speculating in soon wrecked land transactions in Naples. The son accompanied his father on most of his travels, anyhow ran from home and was consequently sent to Saint Petersburg of all places to be employed as an apprentice at a Russian watchmaker called Rogovin, however, according to some sources, as the French correspondent at Favre-Leuba’s Russian branch. Here he must not only have witnessed the so-called bloody Sunday, which started the revolution of 1905, but also made his debut two years later with the poem La Légende de Novgorode (The Legend of Novgorod), translated into Russian and printed in fourteen copies with white letters on black...

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