The Orphism Art Movement: Artists & Paintings

Instructor: Margaret Moran
Orphism was an art movement that emerged in the early 20th century. This lesson will include a brief background on the movement, and explore some of its most iconic artists and paintings.

Background of the Orphism Art Movement

Orpheus was a figure in Greek mythology who was thought to have an otherworldly or magical ability to tantalize the senses with his music and poetry. Orphism is an art movement named for him that focuses on light meeting shapes and the rhythm they can express to the viewer.

Sometimes also known as Simultaneism, Orphism was created by Robert Delaunay and is similar to another famous art style, Cubism. It rose steadily in the first decade of the 20th century, though it did not get an official name until 1912 when the author and poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, an avid fan of the work of Delaunay, decided on the label Orphism. Sadly, this style would not last and had already begun to fade in prominence in 1914, at the start of World War II.

Orphism is an abstract style that favors geometric shapes. It is easily recognizable by its use of bright colors and light, whereas Cubism tended to favor monochromatic shades. The style of Orphism was designed to invoke within the viewer a sense of the musical quality of painting, and convey rhythm and movement. The works also help to connect our everyday objects to painting, making them easily accessible to a wide range of viewers.

Prominent Artists of Orphism

Robert Delaunay

The painter behind the Orphism movement, Robert Delaunay, is the most prominent of the movement's artists. He was a French born painter who rose to prominence in the early 20th century. His work slowly developed from a Neo-Impressionist style to more abstract forms that featured non-figurative imagery and focused on bright colors and the shapes that could be formed by playing with light in the painting.

He believed that color was an entity onto itself, and could express itself in concrete form within a painting. He wrote several pieces on the subject, including a famous text titled 'Note on the Construction of Reality in Pure Painting' (1912). His works even referenced scientists in his theory that people needed certain intellectual components to perceive his artistic works correctly.

Delaunay joined forces with a group of Cubism-inspired European painters around 1904, but broke ranks with them after he failed to fully accept or adhere to the Cubist style. Soon after he formed a new coalition of artistic talent that relied on pure color and geometric movement; this would become Orphism.

Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay married Robert Delaunay in 1910. She was already a painter of some note, who worked primarily in the Fauvist style, which used non blended colors directly on the canvas in order to draw the viewer's eye immediately and dramatically.

Many sources credit Sonia with inspiring her husband to create this new style of art with a patchwork quilt she made that combined unconventional colors instead of shapes to form designs. She would go on to produce several important works for the Orphism movement. Interestingly, Sonia's artistic journey didn't end there; she began to incorporate fabric and eventually fashion into her art. She has the honor of being the only women with a Louvre Museum retrospective gallery that features her works.

Frantisek Kupka

Frantisek Kupka was a Czech painter who, after studying in the salons of Europe, began experimenting with Fauvism. In the early 1900s, he became more interested in painting styles that were moving away from realism and naturalism.

He embraced the ideas of Robert Delaunay and would produce several Orphist works, including The Cathedral, which today is an icon of the Orphism movement. He focused on the idea of combining art with musical essence and flow, a practice that culminated in his work Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors.

Significant Paintings of Orphism


Robert Delaunay, Simultaneous Windows on the City (1912)
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