In 1903, Delaunay went to Germany to study drawing with Ludwig Schmidt-Reutler at the Karlsruhe Academy of Fine Arts. The famous composer Arnold Schoenberg was one of her classmates. Delaunay then moved to Paris and studied at the Academie de la Palette and learned printmaking from Rudolf Grossman. She spent more time at the exhibitions and galleries in Paris than at school. The works of Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and Henri Matisse became her inspirations.
Delaunay married the openly homosexual art dealer and collector Wilhelm Uhde during her first year in Paris. The common theory behind her marriage was to force Delaunay’s adoptive mother to let her remain in Paris. Uhde immediately gave Delaunay her first solo exhibition. She met Picasso, George Braque, Maurice Vlaminck and her future husband Robert Delaunay through Uhde’s connections. Within a short period of time, she through mutual consent divorced Uhde, married Delaunay and gave birth to their son Charles.
The newly married couple shared the same aesthetic. They pursued the study of color. They cofounded the Orphism art movement with art critic Guillaume Apollinaire and František Kupka. This movement is noted for its use of strong colors and geometric shapes. Delaunay did pasted paper and collage about the same time as Picasso and Braque but she moved in a different direction, producing works along an entire spectrum from paper collages to clothing and decorative objects for the home.
Her source of income from her family in St. Petersburg was cut off due to the Russian Revolution. The Delaunay’s moved to Portugal during WWI. She had a solo exhibition in Stockholm in 1916. Needing money, Delaunay designed costumes for Sergei Diaghilev, decorated a nightclub in Madrid and started an interior decoration and fashion business in Bilbao.
After the war was over, she moved with her family permanently to Paris. She made clothes for private clients and friends and started her own business with Simultane as her registered trademark. Delaunay had a famous array of customers and continued to design sets and costumes. On the eve of WWII, Delaunay along with her husband organized the first Salon des Realites Nouvelles (art exhibition focused on abstract art). Delaunay left Paris with her ailing husband to evade the Nazis. He died of cancer in 1941.
In the 1950’s she began to exhibit her own work again and had shows at the Musee National d’Art Moderne and Galerie Suzanne Michel. Delaunay went on to have major exhibitions in Grenoble, Havana, Venice, Rome and Milan.
In 1964 Delaunay was the first living woman artist to have a retrospective at the Louvre. In 1967 a full scale retrospective of her work was held at the Musee National d’Art Moderne. IN 1975 she was named an officer of the French Legion of Honor. She died at home in 1979.