Door 19: Jean Arp

If one think of an artist, one immediately associates him also with a specific movement, Jackson Pollock to Abstract Expressionism, Roy Lichtenstein to Pop Art or Donald Judd to Minimalism. There are exceptions like Pablo Picasso or today's entry the sculptorpainter and poet Jean or Hans Arp.

He was born in Strasbourg in 1887, when it was part of the German Empire, to a German father and a French mother. His mother, who played the piano, soon saw her son's talents and fostered him early on. After studying at the École des Arts et Métiers in his hometown, his life-long travels to ParisWeimar, MunichZürich, Cologne, Meudon,... began.

In 1912 called by Wassily Kandinsky he went to Munich and exhibited with Der Blaue Reiter, the seminal expressionist group. To escape being drafted into the German army for the First World War Jean Arp fled to Switzerland. During that time lot of artist searched shelter there and in Zürich Hugo Ball opened the Cabaret Voltaire, which served as a playground for the Dada movement, where Jean Arp was founding member. There he met in 1915 the young artist Sophie Taeuber, whom he later married in 1922. It was the most significant encounter of his life.

After bringing Dada to Cologne, he also exhibited with the Parisian Dadaists but was also associated with the Surrealist Group founded by André Breton and showed in 1925 at one of their exhibitions. A year later the couple Taeuber-Arp settled in Meudon, a Parisian suburb, hosting the most important artists of the time. In 1931 he broke with the Surrealist movement and founded the group Abstraction-Création. During this time he expanded his work by also including bronze and stone sculptures.


In 1942 the couple had to flee the approaching German army, as their art was seen as degenerated and critical to the Nazi regime. They first went to Grasse, which was part of the unoccupied south of France and stayed there with friends. In early 1943 they moved to Zürich, where Sophie died, supposedly through a carbon-monoxide intoxication because of leaking gas. This shock paralyzed him work-wise for nearly a decade and he, as always in difficult times, solely focused on poetry.

At the end of the 1940s an increasing interest in his art in the United States arose peaking in a retrospective at the Moseum of Modern Art in New York in 1958. In 1959 he married his second wife Marguerite Hagenbach, who initially took care of his administrative work and helped him with his international exhibitions. He died in 1966 from a heart attack and was survived by his second wife, who took care of his estate.

His work stands out on the one being completely abstract but still suggest organic, natural forms. He was also the first to introduce chance and randomness into his work. He took that even further and started with the form and not a subject to not let his rational process interfere with his work and than at the end to decide about a title.