Robert Delaunay - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips
  • "Sky over the cities, balloons, towers, airplanes. All the poetry of modern life: that is my art."
    —Robert Delaunay 

    An emblematic work from one of the leading artists of his generation, L’Équipe de Cardiff perfectly captures Robert Delaunay’s distinctive blend of chromatic brilliance and dynamic form that defines his celebrated images of 20th century modernism. Featuring fragments of the urban landscape, advertising imagery, and borrowing its central motif from photographs printed in the weekly illustrated sports publication La Vie au Grand Air, it is at once a quintessential scene of modern Parisian life and a striking example from one of Delaunay’s most recognizable series. Following his iconic images of the Eiffel Tower and kaleidoscope Fenêtres paintings, Delaunay first embarked on the Équipe de Cardiff series towards the end of 1912. Significant as the earliest appearance of the athletic body in motion in Delaunay’s work, the paintings, pastels, and sketches belonging to the series also make a striking counterpoint to the abstraction he was pursuing in these earlier years and would return to in his later Formes circulaires. As with its sister examples residing in institutions such as the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, and the National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh, the present work is a testament to Guillaume Apollinaire’s famous declaration upon seeing a version of Delaunay’s Équipe de Cardiff at the 1913 Salon des Indépendants: “If cubism is dead, long live Orphism. The kingdom of Orpheus is at hand.”i  


    Source photograph for the present work at bottom. La Vie au Grand Air, no. 748, January 18, 1913. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris


    Paris, Modernity, and the Équipe de Cardiff


    By the dawn of the 20th century, Paris had firmly established itself as the preeminent city of modernity, with the immense steel structure of the Eiffel Tower standing as a feat of engineering and symbol of the technological age. A native Parisian, Delaunay was particularly taken by the city’s embrace of modernity, and as poet Blaise Cendars recalled “Robert Delaunay and I were possibly the only people in Paris to speak of machines and art, and to have the vaguest awareness of the great transformation of the modern world.”ii Blending Cubist form with a bold Fauvist-inspired palette, Delaunay and his wife, the artist Sonia Delaunay-Turk, were central to the development of Orphism in Paris during these years, earning him the title “l’hérésiarque du cubism” as he bridged the gap between these early avant-garde movements and a more fully realized abstraction achieved through combinations of color and light effects.iii 


    Robert Delaunay, L’Équipe de Cardiff, 1913. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

    The Eiffel Tower emerged as a primary motif for the artist between 1909 and 1913, appearing prominently in his early paintings and Fenêtres series, and reimagined in the simplified forms and vibrant hues of the Hommage à Blériot and L’Équipe de Cardiff works, where the unmistakable landmark appears alongside the leaping sportsmen. For Delaunay, these competitive pan-European sporting events recorded and circulated in a newly dominant mass-media format were as fundamental to the representation of modern life as the Eiffel Tower itself. In the present work this is especially pronounced in the closer focus on the action of the figures, which mirrors the tower in their stacked triangular arrangement. 


    Adhering to the same basic compositional structure, the works belonging to the Équipe de Cardiff series all feature the same prominent arrangement of rugby players set against a fractured “range of images associated with ariel vision: the Eiffel Tower, the Grande Roue, an airplane in flight, and a poster that reads ‘ASTRA’ in reference to La Société Astra, a company that...became one of the foremost aeronautic construction conglomerates in France.”iv A reference to the advertising posters that were becoming increasingly commonplace across the city, Delaunay incorporated fragments of text in his Équipe de Cardiff, which here are reduced to the representative letters “A” and “L”. The juxtaposition of text, fractured imagery, and the momentum of the rugby players create a striking sense of movement throughout the composition which reflects the very energy of the urban city the artist so admired. 


    Nicolas de Staël, Footballers, 1952. Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence. Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Color and Simultaneity 


    Executed shortly after Robert and Sonia Delaunay’s return to Paris in 1921 following the couple’s self-imposed exile in Spain and Portugal during the First World War, L’Équipe de Cardiff returns to these earlier themes and motifs and reasserts the primacy of color over form established by Orphism’s extension of Cubist principles. As the artist reflected on these later L’Équipe de Cardiff works, “The actions of the colors are sharper, physically more pure, more suited to the representation of action in movement. Painting is not a symbol. It is a harmony of rhythms, in the spirit of a representation.”v Indeed, L’Équipe de Cardiff is a striking example of Orphism’s employment of color as a function of space, as well as the laws of simultaneous contrast established in the color theories of 19th century chemist Michel-Eugène Chevreul which Delaunay’s work built on during these important years. “Simultaneous contrast may at the same time affect the optical composition of colors and the depth of their tone,” in Chevreul’s words. “Colors so contrasted must purify each other and become more intense.”vi 

    "The new art aims at the formal representation of space continually in movement...and colors are, in their simultaneous contrasts, the marvelous means of expression."
    —Robert Delaunay

    Umberto Boccioni, Dynamism of a Football Player, 1913. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

    Delaunay was not alone in expressing a formal interest in the athletic body in motion and finding in the cut and thrust of contact sports something wholly modern. Brimming with energy and a palpable sense of dynamic movement, Robert Delaunay’s L’Équipe de Cardiff can be contextualized alongside other significant works from the period, including Albert Gleizes 1912-13 Football Players, Umberto Boccioni’s 1913 Dinamiso di un footballer, and Andre Lhote’s 1917 Rugby Match. A close friend of Delaunay’s, Jean Metzinger’s dynamic suite of velodrome paintings also make for a lively comparison to the Équipe de Cardiff series. Yet moving beyond the mechanistic representation of movement explored by Metzinger and the Italian Futurists, in L’Équipe de Cardiff  Delaunay developed Chevreul’s notion of simultaneous contrasts to actively reproduce the sensation and experience of movement within the eye of the viewer. Registering these complementary and contrasting tones and reconciling them in this manner, L’Équipe de Cardiff successfully recreates the energy and vitality of modern urban life, and of sport’s privileged place within it. 

    i Guillaume Apollinaire, “Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée,” in Michel Décaudin, ed., Oeuvres Complètes de Guillaume Apollinaire, Paris, 1966, p. 17.
    ii Blaise Cendars, quoted in Arthur A. Cohen, ed., The New Art of Color: The Writings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, New York, 1978, p. 171. 
    iii Robert Delaunay, “Robert Delaunay seen by Robert Delaunay,” in Arthur A. Cohen, ibid., p. 24. 
    iv Gordon Hughes, Resisting Abstraction: Robert Delaunay and Vision in the Face of Modernism, Chicago, 2014, p. 67.  
    v Robert Delaunay, ‘Robert Delaunay seen by Robert Delaunay,” in Arthur A. Cohen, ed., The New Art of Colour: The Writings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, New York, 1978, p. 27. 
    vi Michel Eugène Chevreul, The Laws of Contrast of Color and their Application to the Arts, trans. John Spanton, London, 1857, pp. 10, 15.

    • Provenance

      Collection Mallet-Coutrot, Paris (acquired by 1957)
      Private Collection, Paris
      Adler & Conkright Fine Art, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2012

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Robert Delaunay, May 25–September 30, 1957, no. 162, p. 90
      MAM Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Robert et Sonia Delaunay, May 14–September 8, 1985, no. 88, p. 132 (illustrated, p. 93)

    • Literature

      Pierre Francastel and Guy Habasque, Robert Delaunay: Du cubisme à l’art abstrait, Paris, 1957, no. 198, pp. 282-283

Property from a Private Collection, Beverly Hills


L'Équipe de Cardiff

bears signature "r Delaunay" lower right
pastel on paper
41 3/8 x 29 1/2 in. (105.1 x 74.9 cm)
Executed in 1922-1923.

Mr. Richard Riss has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Full Cataloguing

$700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for $877,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022