French painter who founded orphism and produced some of the first abstract pictures.
After training as a decorative painter in Paris, Delaunay became a full-time artist in 1904. His early work was mainly in the style of early cubism but his researches into the application of the colour theories of Eugène Chevreul led to a preoccupation with colour that was central to all his work after 1910. This ‘colour cubism’, which appeared in his Eiffel Tower series and the ‘window pictures’, was given the name orphism by Delaunay's friend, the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire. Though sometimes abstract in appearance, his pictures at this time were based on observed motifs, but from about 1912 Delaunay began to find objective motifs largely unnecessary to his exploration of the effects of colour and he painted some of the earliest abstract compositions. They consisted of arrangements of squares and circular areas of colour, as in the series Jeu des disques multicolores and the Rhythmes series. Occasionally he returned to the partial use of objective forms, as in Homage to Blériot (1914) and his series of football players (c.1926). On many of his projects he collaborated with his wife, the painter and designer Sonia Delaunay (1885–1979).
During his lifetime his work had a considerable impact on contemporary artists, particularly on Paul Klee. Delaunay's creation of a sense of movement through the interplay of colours has, together with his purely abstract use of optical phenomena, continued to influence the development of modern art.