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This most comprehensive exhibition in Switzerland to date on Robert Delaunay (1885–1941) pays homage to the artist’s devotion to his native city, Paris. As a passionate advocate and practitioner of abstract art, Delaunay became a central figure within the Parisian avant-garde in the first decades of the 20th century.

Our website is the starting point of this fascinating story. Some 80 paintings, works on paper, films and photographs that explore his favourite themes – aviation, sport and the use of colour in art – will introduce you to Delaunay’s art and his artistic milieu. Don’t miss the accompanying offers designed for adults as well as for children.

The Exhibition


Robert Delaunay, Autoportrait, 1909





Oil on canvas


73 x 60 cm


Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle, Paris. Gift of Sonia Delaunay and Charles Delaunay, 1964


© Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Migeat

In this self-portrait from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Robert Delaunay looks out of the canvas with a matter-of fact expression and an unguarded gaze, partly at the viewer and partly into the distance beyond him. His clothing seems as accurately depicted as his carefully combed hair. The depiction of the 24-year-old is a far cry from naturalism, and it displays numerous artistic trends of the time: the forms have been fragmented under the influence of cubism, whereas the richly nuanced colours, mainly greens and purples, are a reference to the colours used by the Fauve artists (such as Derain and Vlaminck). It is especially striking that Delaunay has covered his face with coloured lozenge shapes, similar to those on the background wallpaper, thus merging subject with surface and treating them as equivalent elements – a procedure which follows in the footsteps of Paul Cézanne, whom Delaunay revered.

Delaunay painted a series of self-portraits between 1905 and 1909. This one is the last in the series. The portraits not only show the change in his outward appearance, but also the change in his artistic methods. Impressionism, Fauvism and the beginnings of cubism left their mark on the self-portraits in different ways. In this work, they all seem to merge.

The City

Robert Delaunay, Étude pour «La Ville», 1909–1910

Study for ‘The City’




Oil on canvas


88.3 x 124.5 cm


Tate, Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1958


© Tate, London, 2018

Around 1900, the term ‘city’ became a synonym for human existence and collective energy. This study in horizontal format is one of the first in the series of pictures ‘The City’, created between 1909 and 1911, in which Delaunay made numerous sketches using simplified geometrical forms. The image was derived from a postcard view of the rooftops of Paris taken from the top of the Arc de Triomphe and looking towards the Eiffel Tower. In this work, the tower is not visible, suggesting that Delaunay cut the original vertical format of the picture down to the horizontal format we have here.

The compact blocks of houses with their multitude of windows show the residential density of Paris in an almost naturalistic way. Delaunay defamiliarizes the view, however; highlights from the right accentuate the contours while making the shapes seem unstable. The city looks as it would through a concave lens which distorts all vertical lines.

In the other pictures in the series, Delaunay began to fragment the view in an increasingly cubist way until, by the final picture, he was generating the pictorial space from transparent fields of colour only. This series thus traces Delaunay’s trajectory away from the figural motif until it finally dissolved into patches of colour.

The Tower

Robert Delaunay, La Tour Eiffel et jardin du Champ-de-Mars, 1922

Eiffel Tower and Gardens, Champ de Mars




Oil on canvas


178,1 x 170,4 cm


Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., The Joseph H. Hirshhorn Bequest, 1981


Lee Stalsworth

In September 1909, Robert Delaunay attended the first International Air Show in Paris. He was very impressed by a number of aerial photographs of the Eiffel Tower taken from a hot air balloon. In his second Eiffel Tower series of the 1920s, he used these images as a model: here, in contrast to earlier pictures, he depicts the tower completely correctly from an architectural point of view, but we are now looking down on the structure from an unusually high perspective.

In the first painting of the new series entitled ‘Eiffel Tower and Gardens, Champ de Mars’, the tower rises above the open ground of the Parc du Champs de Mars, the greenspace between the tower to the northwest and the École Militaire to the southeast. The straight and curved lines of the park walk ways below contrast clearly with the geometrical structure of the tower, while nevertheless entering into a dialogue with it. The picture juxtaposes the dynamics and statics elements of two very different human artefacts: the ‘constructed’ nature of the park and the feat of engineering that produced the tower. Here, the dazzling perspective virtually compresses the Tower together into a cube shaped form – an impression that is intensified by the square format of the picture.

However, Delaunay does not leave the masterwork of technology he admires so much in this compressed condition. He includes part of the shadow it casts, thus enlarging the dwarfed tower to a size that cannot even be expressed by the size of the canvas alone.

The Circle

Robert Delaunay, Formes circulaires. Soleil, lune, 1912

Circular Forms. Sun, Moon




Oil on canvas


65,5 x 100,5 cm


Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

‘I have an urgent need to directly observe the essence of light in nature. ... I find it very important to … observe the movements of colour. … Most importantly, I always look at the sun!’

This utterance of Robert Delaunay can be taken literally: he stared at the sun and then tried to transfer the after-image on the retina onto the canvas. This led to his 1912/13 series ‘Circular Forms’. In about 15 oils, he devoted himself to depicting first the sunlight and then the spectral radiation of the moon before finally combining both in one composition, just as in the picture here ‘Circular Forms. Sun, Moon’. Instead of simply depicting the heavenly bodies, however, he made them emanate from the centre of their own kinetic energies.

The left-hand side of the picture shows large circular forms which spread out evenly. The colours, mostly cool blues and greens and a pale red, pulsate in rings around a bright oval area of colour – which represents the Moon. Instead, the right-hand side of the picture has a completely different feel: it is dominated by complementary contrasting colours such as red and green, purple and yellow, blue and orange. The circles are fragmented and recombined to form propeller shapes that seem to whirl in all directions while still revolving around an energy-filled core. It is a representation of pure light energy – the power of the Sun.

Delaunay made frequent use of the circular form in his paintings: using it to develop his notion of pure painting and as the depiction of light source for all that is visible.


Robert Delaunay, Hommage à Blériot, 1914

Homage to Blériot




Oil on canvas


46,7 x 46,5 cm


Musée de Grenoble, purchased from Sonia Delaunay in 1946


© 2018 Ville de Grenoble / Musée de Grenoble – J.L. Lacroix

On 25 July 1909, the Frenchman Louis Blériot crossed the English Channel in an aeroplane for the first time. On his return, he was welcomed by an enthusiastic audience which included technophile Robert Delaunay and the artist Sonia Terk, who would later become his wife. Delaunay was so impressed by the event that, a few years later, he dedicated a series of paintings to the famous aviator. The work you see here is one of several studies Delaunay made for the large oil he also painted in 1914, which is some five times bigger than this one.

‘Homage to Blériot’ is one of the semi-figurative works that Delaunay produced after his foray into pure abstraction in 1913 with his First Disc. His choice of subject matter was unusual for the time, as was his use of colour rings and circles to create the illusion of movement. The shapes whirl over the surface of the work, with their relentless rotation and their garish colours seeming to set the figurative elements in motion. These include propellers, monoplanes on the ground and biplanes in the sky, spectators – and even the Eiffel Tower.


Robert Delaunay, Drame politique, 1914

Political Drama




Oil and collage on cardboard


88,7 x 67,3 cm


National Gallery of Art, Washington, Donation Joseph H. Hazen Foundation

On 16 March 1914, Henriette Caillaux, the wife of the liberal French finance minister, Joseph Caillaux shot Gaston Calmette, editor-in chief of the conservative newspaper ‘Le Figaro’, for, what she described as the unscrupulous smear campaign that he had conducted against her husband. Two weeks later, the crime was depicted on the front cover of the newspaper ‘Le Petit Journal’ and became the starting point for Robert Delaunay’s painting ‘Crime of Passion’ or ‘Political Drama’.

The arrangement of the figures in space is taken from the newspaper illustration. On the front right, we see Caillaux as she lunges forward vigorously. She has lifted her right pistol-wielding arm to shoot, and in her left hand she is holding a muff, which she allegedly used to conceal the weapon. Calmette, seen on the left, turns to face her and seems to lose his balance.

Delaunay records the precise moment of the shot, which is depicted by a white circle of light in the centre of the image – a collage circular form made of strong black, red and white colour contrasts – resembling a target. He surrounds this circular form in the centre with concentric circles which become progressively more pastel-coloured as they move outwards, thus showing us the energy radiating from the shot by means of pure painting.

In this way, Delaunay combined figurative and abstract shapes in a narrative well-known to his contemporaries, and this picture found more acceptance with them than his earlier forays into pure abstraction, which were met with derision at his first exhibition. We can assume that Delaunay was horrified by the verdict pronounced in this matter, for Madame Caillaux was declared ‘not guilty’ despite of obviously being to blame. The painting can thus be read in two different ways: as a depiction of the attack on Calmette and as Delaunay’s way of coming to terms with the attacks which were being made on his painting style at the time.


Robert Delaunay, Les coureurs, 1924–1925

The Runners




Oil on canvas


153 x 203 cm


Private collection

The eighth Summer Olympics were held in Paris in 1924. Owing to their organisation and especially the first inclusion of an Olympic village for the athletes, they were considered the first real Olympic Games of the modern era. Even though Delaunay was not a sportsman himself, sporting events had already attracted his attention in the pre-war period. He was particularly interested in the depiction of the dynamic nature of modern life.

Medium- and long-distance races as shown in this painting of 1924/25 became especially popular in France after a French runner won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Antwerp in 1920. Delaunay shared this fascination and turned the runners into a pictorial subject. Here he was able to create his distinctive synthesis of figurative and abstract representation by reducing the heads and torsos of the sportsmen to basic geometrical shapes while integrating them into the colourful rhythm of the picture. While the torsos in particular are shown with clear outlines in the primary colours red, yellow and blue, the fast movements of the legs appear to blur and go out of focus thanks to the pastel shades in which they are rendered. In this way, Delaunay creates an impression of movement while demonstrating the inability of the human eye to discern distinct contours at high speeds.

The World’s Fair

Robert Delaunay, Air, fer, eau, 1937

Air, Iron, and Water




Oil on canvas


94,7 x 151,4 cm


The Sam and Ayala Zacks Collection in The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, on permanent loan from the Art Gallery of Ontario


© 2018 The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

As a representative of modern art, Robert Delaunay was commissioned along with Sonia and the interior decorator and designer Félix Aublet to design two French pavilions for the 1937 Paris World’s Fair: the Pavilion of Aviation and the Pavilion of Railways. For the latter, he was required to create a mural with an area of about 900 square meters – some 9 times larger than the two studies for the mural ‘Air, Iron and Water’ which are also on show.

In ‘Air, Iron and Water’, Delaunay presents a synopsis of the great pictorial and colouristic subjects of his entire oeuvre. On the bottom right, a locomotive breaks through the pictorial space with great energy. Its circular front view is continued in the circular shapes rising above it. The result is a whole arc of circles embracing the Sacré-Coeur Basilica – the Three Graces as a symbol of Paris – but especially the monumental Eiffel Tower as it soars heavenwards, giving everything a light and dance-like liveliness. It is a picture full of dynamics and joyfully coloured enthusiasm for modern art and modern life.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, the Delaunays left Paris and moved first to Auvergne, then to the south of France, where Robert Delaunay died in October 1941 after a long illness.


Please book in advance for all events
Telephone:+41 (0)44 253 84 84 (Mon–Fri during office hours).
Prices include admission and materials.


Adults and young people aged 16 and over

Robert and Sonia Delaunay and Blaise Cendrars: painting and poetry

The meeting of Sonia Delaunay and the poet Blaise Cendrars led to a fruitful collaboration and one of the most beautiful artists’ books, ‘La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France’ (‘Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Joan of France’), in which text, the rhythm of language, colours and forms blend into a unique ‘simultaneous’ whole.

With Catherine Brandeis (in German)

Wed 3 October, 6.15 p.m.–7.45 p.m.
CHF 30 / members and young people CHF 10

City views: Delaunay energizes the architecture of Paris

In his depiction of the Eiffel Tower, Robert Delaunay combined the dynamism of the vibrant metropolis with the intensity of his colour studies. We’ll examine this interweaving as we view selected works from the exhibition and explore photographs and films that place it in the context of architectural history. We’ll also compare Delaunay’s painting with the media presentation of the French capital as the quintessential modern city. Come and join us on our journey to Paris!

With Jacqueline Maurer, an art historian specializing in film, architecture and urban studies, and Eveline Schüep, art mediator (in German)

Wed 31 October, 6.15 p.m.–7.45 p.m.
CHF 30 / members and young people CHF 10

Moving perspectives: the Eiffel Tower, cityscapes and the view from the window

Robert Delaunay was fascinated by technological inventions, the Eiffel Tower and photography.We’ll explore the various perspectives and the architecture of colour in Delaunay’s ‘Towers’, ‘Cities’ and ‘Windows’ and investigate the effects of light and ways of framing space. Includes painting and drawing.

With Catherine Brandeis (in German)

Thurs 27 September, 5.15 p.m.–7.45 p.m.
CHF 50 / CHF 30 (members) / CHF 15 (young people)

Colour, light, movement

Modern technology, speed and movement dominate Robert Delaunay’s approach to life. In 1892 Paris receives electric street lighting, illuminating the night as if it were day, while in 1909 Blériot makes the first powered flight across the Channel. This was the backdrop for Delaunay’s investigations into how certain colour contrasts affect the eye and the creation of his ‘electric prisms’ and ‘circular forms’ – the earliest abstract images. On our tour of the exhibition we’ll learn about Delaunay’s colour theory and gather ideas for our own pictures of movement.

With Catherine Brandeis (in German)

Sat 3 November, 10.30 a.m.–2.30 p.m. (incl. short lunch break)
CHF 80 / CHF 50 (members) / CHF 20 (young people)

Family workshops

Robert Delaunay: colour, light and movement

With Sibilla Caflisch

Sun 30 September, 10.30 a.m.–12.30 p.m.
Adults CHF 10
Children and young people CHF 5
Families CHF 25

The colourful world of Robert Delaunay

With Sibylle Burla

Sun 28 October, 10.30 a.m.–12.30 p.m.
Adults CHF 10
Children and young people CHF 5
Families CHF 25

Ages 5 and over

Sunday painting workshop

A chance for parents to take a break and visit the exhibition while kids have fun exploring works of art, then painting and designing in the workshop.

2/9/16/23 September
7/14/21 October
4/11/18 November
Sun 10.30 a.m.–12 midday

CHF 12

Paris through a kaleidoscope

Have you ever looked at the world through a kaleidoscope? It breaks everything down into colourful patterns. That’s how Robert Delaunay painted his Paris. What does your world look like? Show us, using brush and paints.

With Anna Bähler

Sat 22 September, 10.30 a.m.–12.30 p.m.
Tues 9 October, 2 p.m.–4 p.m.

CHF 15

Joie de vivre

‘Joie de vivre’ means ‘joy of living’, and is also the title of one of Robert Delaunay’s paintings. We’ll delve into a world of colour and movement. Then, in the workshop, we’ll use what we’ve learnt to make colours and shapes dance and shine.

With Sibylle Burla

Sat 27 October, 2 p.m.–4 p.m.
Sat 10 November, 10.30 a.m.–12.30 p.m.

CHF 15

Ages 7–12

Rythme sans fin – rhythm without end

Like soap bubbles floating in the air, balls flying through space or coloured spinning tops: colours, shapes, light and rhythm are central to the paintings of Robert Delaunay. In the workshop, brushes and paints are waiting for you to create your own works.

With Sibylle Burla

Thurs 11 October, 10.30 a.m.–2.30 p.m.

CHF 25; bring lunch

Miracle machines and plays of light

Robert Delaunay was fascinated by the inventions of his time: machines, cars, aeroplanes and, especially, electric light! You’ll find them all in his pictures at the Kunsthaus. Then you’ll use found objects, wood and wire to build your own art machine. How does it move? What sounds does it make? What shadows does it cast on the wall? We’ll experiment with light, practise some theatre and invent a story that we’ll bring to the stage at the Theater Stadelhofen – with your machine figure playing a major part!

With Eveline Schüep and Françoise Blancpain, theatre educator, Theater Stadelhofen (in German)

16–19 October, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.

CHF 125

Register here


The Kunsthaus’s art education service has produced separate audioguides for adults and children.
The audioguide for children is free of charge. The audioguide for adults costs CHF 3 (free for members).


Public guided tours:

Wednesdays/Thursdays 6 p.m.
Fridays 3 p.m.
Sundays 11 a.m.

Saturdays 29 September and 27 October, 4 p.m.

Saturday 15 September, 4 p.m.

Private guided tours

We will be happy to arrange guided tours in various languages at your chosen time (during opening hours) on request.


A scholarly and lavishly illustrated catalogue in English and German accompanies the exhibition. It includes newly commissioned essays by Céline Chicha-Castex, Nancy Ireson, Anne de Mondenard and Simonetta Fraquelli (exhibition curator), contributing to the critical re-evaluation of this remarkable artist. The publication will be available from the Kunsthaus shop when the exhibition opens.



CHF 23 / CHF 18 (concessions and groups).

Combination tickets including the collection and exhibition:
CHF 26 / CHF 19 (concessions and groups).

Admission free for young people up to age 16 and members of the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft.

Audioguide CHF 3 (free for members). Children’s audioguide free of charge.


SBB RailAway combination ticket

with discount on travel and admission: at stations and by phoning Rail Service
0900 300 300 (CHF 1.19/min. by land line)

Zurich Tourism

Hotel Room Reservations and Ticket Sales,
Tourist Information at Zurich Main Railway Station
Tel. +41 44 215 40 00


Kunsthaus Zürich
Heimplatz 1
CH–8001 Zürich
Tel. +41 (0)44 253 84 84

Fri–Sun/Tues 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Wed, Thurs 10 a.m.–8 p.m.


Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft
P.O. Box, CH-8024 Zurich


Simonetta Fraquelli, Björn Quellenberg, Tonwelt GmbH


Kristin Steiner

Layout and technical production

Crafft Kommunikation AG, Zürich

Illustration on start page:
Robert Delaunay,
Eiffel Tower and Gardens, Champ-de-Mars, 1922 (detail)
Oil on canvas, 178,1 x 170,4 cm
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, The Joseph H. Hirshhorn Bequest, 1981
Photo: Lee Stalsworth