Orphism introduced non-objective painting to French viewers by breaking away from Cubism and embracing brilliant colour and representations of time and experience. Orphism was one of the first styles to approach complete abstraction, bringing together contemporary philosophical and colour theories to create works that deeply involved the viewer in dynamic expanses of rhythmic form and chromatic scales. Orphism, rather than being a long-term, cohesive movement, was a loosely knit group of artists who shared the goal of moving beyond concrete reality to present a flowing vision of simultaneity and flux. It bloomed briefly in the years leading up to World War I before dying with the outbreak of the war in 1918.

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Sonia Delaunay – Rythme coloré, 1952_Oil on canvas. 105.9 × 194.6 cm_©Sonia Delaunay


Around 1911, Robert and Sonia Delaunay’s theory and practise began to combine Frantiek Kupka’s experimental work, giving birth to Orphism.

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Sonia and Robert Delaunay _ @www.singulart.com

The concept of Orphism was made popular by Robert Delaunay’s influential article “La lumière” in 1912, as well as Guillaume Apollinaire’s description of “Orphic Cubism” in his 1913 writings on modernism. He was intending to categorise the various inclinations in Cubism (which he defined very loosely) and coined the term “Orphic Cubism” to describe a group of painters who were moving away from easily recognisable subject-matter. Apollinaire saw Delaunay’s vibrant Cubist-inspired paintings as incorporating a different style that integrated musical elements into painting. Therefore, Orphism was titled after Orpheus, the fabled poet, and singer of Greek mythology who was a popular symbol of the ideal, mystically driven artist.

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Orpheus by Peter Paul Rubens, 1636-38. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid © akg-images

Robert and Sonia Delaunay’s collaborations broadened the reach of Orphism beyond the art world. Despite the fact that Kupka did receive some of the earliest accolades for his activism of pure painting, abstract and devoid of the need for description, the Delaunays would become most strongly linked with Orphism.

Despite Apollinaire’s attempt to imbue Orphism with a poetic nature, the movement’s three founders were firmly scientific in their style of painting. They were inspired by the abstract qualities of music, but they had no intention of doing anything mystical or magical. They were looking into specific theories about the effects of colour on human emotion.

Simultanism, or “Simultaneous Contrast,” was the name given to the new movement by Robert Delaunay. Simultanism was coined by Henri Bergson, a French philosopher who regarded intuition over intellect as a means of comprehending the universe.

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Thus, in the visual arts, Orphism was also known as Simultanism, spearheaded by Robert Delaunay that derived from Cubism and prioritised light and colour.

Significant Personalities

Apart from Robert Delaunay there was Sonia Delaunay, Robert’s wife, who worked in this style, as did Frantiek Kupka, Baranoff Rossiné, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia, Jean Metzinger, and Marcel Duchamp.

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A5987-Art Movement Orphism (art)

Robert Delaunay

Robert Delaunay preferred the term Simultanism to describe his work. La Ville de Paris (1912; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris) is a good exemple. Delaunay and the Italian Futurists both investigated the idea that the world imprints itself on the consciousness as fleeting, intuitively understood sensations.

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Sonia Delaunay’s patchwork, 1912, L_@ www.minniemuse.com

Sonia Delaunay

Couverture de Berceau (1911): The patchwork blanket is made of 70 triangular and rectangular pieces of cloth that are arranged in contrasting styles along a rough designed grid, creating a softly harmonious but dynamic effect. This work would lay the groundwork for Orphism. It influenced the movement’s theory and practise, as well as her husband’s Simultaneous Windows series. In reality, Sonia’s work is a little more advanced: Robert’s series includes some figurative elements, whereas the blanket is entirely an abstract arrangement of colours, shapes, and lines.

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The Rhythm- Wladimir Baranoff-Rossiné _ @ www.baranoff-rossine.com

Baranoff Rossiné

The Rhythm (Adam and Eve) (1910-13) marked Baranoff Rossiné’s -debut as a modernist. It demonstrates his early acceptance of the Orphist concepts. Like Delaunay, he desired the artwork to be a majestic display of the relevant possibility of channelling colour and form to create meaning. Baranoff-use Rossiné’s metaphorical and mythological figures were influenced by Delaunay’s allegorical depictions in La Ville de Paris, as his solar disc payed homage to his mentor’s symbol. In 1910, the talented Ukrainian artist relocated to Paris, where he happened to meet the Delaunays, who then became his mentors as they developed Orphism theory and practise.

Later Developments

Orphism was a brief movement, with only Kupka and the Delaunays continuing to paint in the style after 1914. Nonetheless, the movement influenced a number of artists as well as the development of later artistic directions. Orphism had a significant impact on the development of abstraction, both in its lyrical and geometric styles. Wassily Kandinsky, who was particularly interested in Robert Delaunay’s colour theory, invited him to showcase in the first Der Blaue Reiter show in 1911, where his work influenced other group members, including Franz Marc and August Macke.

Junya Watanabe SS 2015_@www.intothefashion.com

‘Patchwork Madness’ by Junya Watanabe “The SS||2015” collection, which debuted in 2015, was a fun homage to the Orphism art movement. Some similarities to the ‘Rythme Coloré’ in particular “Sonia Delaunay painting from 1946 was also seen here.

In a manner, the concepts of Orphism became part of modern society’s design vocabulary, where it persists to depict the hip and the creative.


  1.     Orphism [online]. Available at: https://www.theartstory.org/movement/orphism/ [Accessed date: 21/10/2021].
  2.     Ideel Art (2016). Discover the Mysteries of Orphism in Painting [online]. Available at: https://www.ideelart.com/magazine/orphism [Accessed date: 21/10/2021].
  3.     Into The Fashion (2014). INSPIRATION ‘Rythme Coloré” by Sonia Delaunay 1946… Junya Watanabe SS||2015 [online]. Available at: http://www.intothefashion.com/2014/10/inspiration-rythme-colore-by-sonia.html [Accessed date: 21/10/2021].

Shirley is an architecture student with an interest in sustainable design. She believes that as designers we must not only wisely design for people, but also share our ideas, thoughts, and vision with the community to make the beautiful nuances of architecture accessible to all.

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