Currently on show at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum New York: the designs created by Sonia Delaunay for Amsterdam department store Metz & Co.
Founded in 1740, Metz & Co became well known in the early and mid 19th century for its support of avant-garde designers and artists, such as Gerrit Rietveld, Bart van der Leck, Sonia Delauny and Alvar Aalto.
Indeed, the famous cupola on the roof was designed by Gerrit Rietveld.
The exhibition Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay explores the Russian artist’s work in textiles and fashion from the 1920s to the 1940s. Although best-known as an abstract painter, Delaunay (1885 – 1979) worked across different design specialisms from graphics, and interiors to theatre and film, fashion and textiles.
Half of the exhibition is dedicated to Delaunay’s work for Metz & Co, as the company kept all the working process on file, from initial sketch through to finished textile. Delaunay started working with the retailers from 1925, when Metz & Co director Joseph de Leeuw saw her work at the Paris Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts and in the 30s Metz & Co became her most important client. From then right through to the 1960s, Delaunay refined her technical skills in textiles, from geometrics to florals, guided by Metz & Co director Joseph de Leeuw. The company had very clear ideas of what would sell, as the archive shows from over 2000 designs submitted, 200 of these were bought.
At the launch of the exhibition, the museum held a discussion panel with people involved in its conception. Dutch art and design historian and writer Petra Timmer was a strong catalyst behind the exhibition’s existance. While studying for her thesis in design at university in the Netherlands, Timmer decided to look at the commissions of Metz & Co between the wars and contacted the company to get in touch with the de Leeuw family who had sold the business in 1973.
Timmer went to visit Mrs de Leeuw, the widow of Hank de Leeuw, the last owner before the sale. Timmer says how she saw the large archive from Metz & Co, with Mrs de Leeuw, "showing me boxes and boxes of samples, of fabric samples, it was a dazzling experience, all the colors and patterns. I realised that night, after a dream I had with all the fabrics still dazzling in my mind, that this thesis had to be about textiles and fabrics. Some years later I found in the attic of Metz & Co some samples, by accident, of fabric designs, a lot of them by Sonia Delaunay, so from that time, working with their son Matteo di Monti, the plan was born to make an exhibition."
Matteo di Monti explained how his father had been head of the fabric department and had kept all the archive material in the cellar, next to the washing machine. After meeting Timmer, the two of them began to catalogue all the archives, with a view to putting on an exhibition of the textile library. And now it is all on show in New York.
Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay continues at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum until 19 June 2011.
Click on the images to enlarge
Main image: Design by Sonia Delaunay
Other images: 1.- 3. Designs by Sonia Delaunay 4. & 5. Metz & Co
Exhibition Images: © L & M SERVICES B.V. The Hague
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