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Robert Delaunay, "Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon"

To learn more about how abstract artists became the radical thinkers of their time, take our online course, Modern Art, 1880-1945 or Pigment to Pixel: Color in Modern and Contemporary Art.. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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Video transcript

- This circular painting by Robert Delaunay is one of many that takes advantage and really responds to the science of the beginning of the 20th century and thinking about the heavens, thinking about the movements of the sun, the moon, the planets as a kind of model for what abstract painting could be. You may note Delaunay dates the picture 1912. We now know, of course, that it was painted in 1913. There was such a kind of rat-a-tat-tat barrage of new ideas that artists had a great stake in being the first one to do what they did. In this case, something from 1913 is stated to have been from 1912. It's an era of invention. It's an era of discovery. It's not an era of doing what other people do. It's an era of doing what you're doing before anybody else. Delaunay was very interested in color theory, and there were very complicated, conflicting theorists about complementary colors, about primaries and secondaries, and paintings like this one are where he tested out those theories, the ways in which subtleties of shades actually bloom into new colors, depending on the way the artist combines them. This painting has in its title the word simultaneous, an idea of movement, an idea of passing of time. You're actually not seeing something still, because there are light waves, there are sound waves, there are particles. Artists at this time were very conscious of the many, many new aspects of scientific thought that were upending the idea of the world, of space and of time as a constant, stable given. They wanted to translate that into their paintings, and Delaunay did that into this painting and all of his paintings.