Hans Jean Arp (1887-1966)

Biography

Arp was of French Alsatian and German ancestry, and, thus, his parents gave him both French and German names. He began training as an artist in 1900 in his native Strasbourg and later studied in Weimar, Germany, and at the Académie Julian in Paris. He went to Switzerland in 1909, and in 1911 in Weggis, near Lucerne, he cofounded Der Moderne Bund (“The Modern Alliance”), an association of artists dedicated to modern art.

During World War I, Arp took refuge in Zürich, where he became one of the founders of the Dada movement in early 1916. Soon after arriving in Zürich, he met artist Sophie Taeuber, who became his primary collaborator and whom he married in 1922. The two artists worked with nontraditional media and together created nonrepresentational collages (called Duo-Collages) and embroidered pieces. During that period Arp also began creating painted wooden reliefs—layers of unusual shapes inspired by forms found in nature.

After the war he and Taeuber-Arp lived in Germany until 1924 and then settled near Paris in the town of Meudon in 1926. During the 1920s he was associated with the Surrealists, and in 1930 he briefly joined the short-lived abstract artists’ Cercle et Carré (“Circle and Square”) group. In 1931 he participated in the Abstraction-Création movement, which absorbed the members of Cercle et Carré. Those associations connected Arp to Constructivism, a movement that emphasized a more rational and ordered art than Surrealism. Arp’s art began at that time to incorporate harder edges, sharper angles, and straighter lines.

During World War II he returned to Zürich, where his wife died in 1943. While in Switzerland he did his first papiers froissés (“crumpled papers”). After the war Arp returned to Meudon, where he continued his experiments with abstract form and colour in two and three dimensions and wrote essays and poetry, many of which were dedicated to his wife. Arp enjoyed many successes in his last decades, including Grand Prize for Sculpture at the 1954 Venice Biennale, a commission for the UNESCO building (UNESCO Constellation, 1958) in Paris, and retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1958 and at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, in 1962.

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