Jean Arp life and biography

Jean Arp picture, image, poster

Jean Arp biography

Date of birth : 1886-09-16
Date of death : 1966-06-07
Birthplace : Strasbourg, France
Nationality : French-German
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2010-07-28
Credited as : Artist painter and sculptor, poet, abstract artist

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Jean Arp / Hans Arp, born 16 September 1886 in Strasbourg, France – died 7 June 1966 in Basel, Switzerland was a German-French, or Alsatian, sculptor, painter, poet and abstract artist in other media such as torn and pasted paper.

Arp was born in Strasbourg. The son of a French mother and a German father, he was born during the period following the Franco-Prussian War when the area was known as Alsace-Lorraine (Elsass-Lothringen in German) after it had been returned to Germany by France. Following the return of Alsace to France at the end of World War I, French law determined that his name become Jean.

In 1904, after leaving the École des Arts et Métiers in Strasbourg, he went to Paris where he published his poetry for the first time. From 1905 to 1907, Arp studied at the Kunstschule, Weimar, Germany and in 1908 went back to Paris, where he attended the Académie Julian. In 1915, he moved to Switzerland, to take advantage of Swiss neutrality. Arp later told the story of how, when he was notified to report to the German consulate, he avoided being drafted into the army: he took the paperwork he had been given and, in the first blank, wrote the date. He then wrote the date in every other space as well, then drew a line beneath them and carefully added them up. He then took off all his clothes and went to hand in his paperwork. He was told to go home.


One of the most prominent artists of the twentieth century, and a forerunner of abstract and concrete art, Jean Arp was a sculptor, painter and writer who emphasized the organic creation of art. Arp explained in the essay "Dadaland," printed in his collection On My Way, that he wanted to create art in the same manner as nature created objects. "Art is a fruit that grows in man, like a fruit on a plant, or a child in its mother's womb," Arp wrote. "But whereas the fruit of the plant, the fruit of the animal, the fruit in the mother's womb, assume autonomous and natural forms, art, the spiritual fruit of man, usually shows an absurd resemblance to the aspect of something else." As Alexandre Partens wrote in Almanach Dada, in his sculpture and paintings, Arp "wanted immediate and direct production, like a stone breaking away from a cliff, a bud bursting, an animal reproducing. He wanted objects impregnated with imagination and not museum pieces, he wanted animalesque objects with wild intensities and colors, he wanted a new body among us which would suffice unto itself."

Arp was born in 1887 in Alsace, a region that has often passed between France and Germany. Because he worked in both France and Germany at different stages in his career and changing political conditions sometimes dictated a prudent subterfuge the artist went by the French version of his name (Jean Arp) or the German version of his name (Hans Arp) at various times.

After dropping out of art school, which he thought irrelevant to his own concerns, Arp joined Der Moderner Bund, a group of modern artists in Lucerne, Switzerland, who shared his interest in abstract art. He participated in their first exhibition in 1911. The following year he joined the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) group of expressionist artists in Munich, a group that included the artist Wassilly Kandinsky. At the outbreak of World War I, Arp found that his mixed French-German background made him a suspicious character to both countries; he moved to neutral Switzerland. When German authorities tried to draft him as a soldier in 1915, Arp convinced the German Consulate in Zurich that he was mentally defective and thus avoided service.

In Zurich Arp met such other artists as Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, and Richard Huelsenbeck, all of whom were sitting out the war years in Switzerland. Their common interest in abstract art, combined with a general revulsion against the war and its causes, led these artists to form the avant-garde Dada group in February of 1916 at Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire. "Dada," Arp explained in his "Dadaland" essay, "aimed to destroy the reasonable deceptions of man and recover the natural and unreasonable order. Dada wanted to replace the logical nonsense of the men of today by the illogically senseless. . . . Dada is for the senseless, which does not mean nonsense. Dada is senseless like nature. Dada is for nature and against art. Dada is direct like nature. Dada is for infinite sense and definite means."

Under the common banner of experimental revolt against the rational thought which had led to the destruction of World War I, the Dadaists explored a number of new techniques and approaches to art. Rejecting established traditions and forms which they believed were aesthetic equivalents of the rational thought of society at large the Dadaists took painting back to its origins as lines and colors, poetry to its beginnings as letters and sounds, and sculpture to its component elements of shape and size. From these basics they hoped to construct a new art capable of expressing humanity's true desires in a pure and natural form.

Beginning as a painter and sculptor of abstracts, under the influence of Dada Arp soon began to formulate a different approach to artistic creation. He experimented with paper collages formed by bits of colored paper dropped by chance onto a white canvas. He created works using an automatic drawing technique in which the conscious mind's direction was subverted. Writing in On My Way, Arp explained his use of chance: "The 'law of chance,' which embraces all laws and is unfathomable like the first cause from which all life arises, can only be experienced through complete devotion to the unconscious. I maintained that anyone who followed this law was creating pure life." Herbert Read saw a mystical quality in Arp's technique. Writing in The Art of Jean Arp, Read compared Arp's use of chance to the I Ching, the traditional Chinese divination tool, which is consulted by throwing coins or sticks and reading the pattern they form on the ground. "Arp assumed . . . ," Read wrote, "that a work of art could be made in exactly the same way. Tear up the paper and throw the pieces on the floor, and the position they assume will have some occult significance." Hans Richter, writing in his Dada: Art and Anti-Art, admitted that Arp "became one of the most consistent exponents of the use of chance and finally made of it an almost religious presence."

In 1915 Arp was commissioned to decorate the interior walls of a theosophical institute in Paris. He cut large paper shapes in a variety of colors and covered the walls with these "lyrical abstractions," as Richter called them. In 1916 these paper shapes evolved into amoeba-like wood reliefs which Arp painted in various colors, cut rounded holes into, superimposed in several layers, and hung on walls. Although given names suggesting representational images, few of these sculptures were anything but abstract flights of fancy. Speaking of Arp's sculpture, Robert Melville wrote in Arp that many of Arp's works could "be described as the relief maps of a poetic cosmogony: they appear to relate to Arp's avowed interest in the Pre-Socratic philosophers, and in particular to their speculations upon the originative material of things and the coherence of the natural world." Thomas B. Hess, writing in ARTNews, found that Arp's sculpture exhibited a kind of mysticism set off by his "balancing force, wit. It combines with all his philosophies to set up an equilibrium and tension of form and content."

Over the years Arp created sculpture in a variety of media, including stone, marble, bronze, and wood. Some of these were reliefs while others were free-standing sculpture meant to be displayed in a natural setting. His work went through several evolutionary phases during his career as Arp experimented with different materials and approaches. His largest and perhaps best sculptures were executed in the 1950s: a series of wood reliefs of monumental size for Harvard University's Graduate Center in 1950; and in 1956, a metal-on-concrete relief for the library of the University of Caracas, Venezuela. Speaking of the Harvard reliefs in her book Jean Arp, Carola Giedion-Welcker found that they "brighten the surroundings with a penetrating lyrical accent. Like passing stars, clouds, birds and leaves, the forms move along the regularly veined wooden wall, broadening finally into 'constellations.' It is relaxed poetic interplay of motions, forms and surfaces." She described the Caracas library relief as a "fantastic being placed among plants, architecture, and various structures . . . in full harmony. . . . [They are] precisely cut and roundly undulant forms which describe their movement before great wall surfaces in a script-like manner. The hovering interplay of open and closed forms, perforated and continuous surfaces, is executed in the language of a fantastic geometry."

In addition to his work as an artist Arp also wrote a significant body of poetry. His poems displayed an innocent quality in sharp contrast to the work of some of his fellow Dadaists. As Richter explained, "The fortissimo of Tzara and Huelsenbeck would largely have drowned the soft flute-tones of the Alsation painter, if he had not, by the magic of his strange personality and the childlike charm and wisdom of his poems, found himself a place during one of their pauses for breath." As Robert Motherwell wrote in the prefatory note to On My Way, Arp "writes true poetry, spontaneous and unforced, without desire to 'be' a poet." In his Dada and Surrealist Art, William S. Rubin found that "though many Dada and Surrealist artists were practicing poets, Arp is one of the very few whose poetry stands in both quality and quantity as an important contribution in its own right. . . . Arp's collages, reliefs, and sculpture share with his poetry an iconography e.g., navels, mustaches, and clouds a gentle whimsy, and a feeling of naturalness."

As in his artwork Arp often created poems by using the law of chance. As Raoul Hausmann pointed out in German Life and Letters, "One of Arp's most important discoveries was his recognition of the role of chance not a chance senselessly destroying order, but on the contrary, a chance that has its own meaning, and makes new sense." Fritz Usinger, writing in Deutsche Rundschau, noted that Arp's poetry "raises the logical laws of consciousness into the alogical, into paradoxes, one might even say into a region where the paradox is no longer paradoxical but begins to be a matter of course. . . . The alogical becomes the normal, as it were, and all Arp's poetry is a sort of exploration of these realms of the alogical, which are being disclosed for the first time."

Beyond the alogical meanings of Arp's poetry is its value on a verbal level. Roger Shattuck in the New York Review of Books called attention to "the sound surfing and syllable sledding" to be found in Arp's poetry. In his work, Shattuck explained, Arp finds "verbal patterns in which sound and sense have approximately equal weight." In this way the disparate images of Arp's poetry "constitute a unity of their own," as Armine Kotin wrote in Papers on Language and Literature, apart from their literal meanings. "It is the language-consciousness," Kotin explained, "the consistent exploitation of interrelationships on the linguistic level, that creates the sense of unity and coherence." This approach, Kotin believed, was a "prelude to the 'discovery' of concrete poetry, the importance of which as a modern poetry movement cannot be denied." "After Apollinaire (and, before Apollinaire, Mallarme)," Hausmann concluded, "Arp was incontestably one of the most important innovators in French poetry."

Family: Born September 16, 1887, in Strasbourg, Alsace, Germany (now France); died of heart failure, June 7, 1966, in Locarno, Switzerland; son of Pierre Guillaume (owner of a cigar and cigarette factory) and Josephine (Koeberle) Arp; married Sophie Henriette Gertrude Taeuber (an artist), 1921 (died in an accident, January 13, 1943); married Marguerite Hagenbach, 1959. Education: Studied art in Germany at Kunstakademie, 1905-07, and in France at Academie Julian, 1907-09. Religion: Roman Catholic.

International Sculpture Prize, Venice Biennale, 1954; Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, 1960; Stephen Lochner Medal, City of Cologne, 1961; Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres, 1961; Grand Prix National des Arts, 1963; Carnegie Prize, 1964; Goethe Prize, University of Hamburg, 1965; Order of Merit with Star, German Republic, 1965; named honorary citizen of Locarno, Switzerland, 1965.

Sculptor, painter, author, and poet. Associated with artistic movements Der Moderner Bund (co-founder), Lucerne, Switzerland, 1911-12, Der Blaue Reiter, Munich, Germany, 1912, Der Sturm, Berlin, Germany, 1913, Dada (co-founder), Zurich, Switzerland, 1916-18, Dada, Cologne, Germany, 1919-20, Dada, Paris, France, 1920-24, Surrealism, Paris, 1924-31, Cercle et Carre, Paris, 1930, and Abstraction-Creation, Paris, 1931. Member of committee, Salon des Realities Nouvelles, Paris, 1946-48, and Salon de la Jeune Sculpture, 1950-52. One-man exhibitions held at galleries and museums, including Buchholz Gallery, New York City, 1949, Galleria del Naviglio, Milan, 1957, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, 1958, Galerie Denise Rene, Paris, 1959, Musee d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1962, Guggenheim Museum, New York City, 1969, and Metropolitan Musuem of Art, New York City, 1972. Works represented in permanent collections of museums in Paris, New York, London, Zurich, Rome, San Francisco, Stockholm, and other cities.


* Der Vogel selbdritt (poems and woodcuts), [Berlin], 1920.

* Die Wolkenpumpe (poems), [Hanover], 1920.

* Der Pyramidenrock (poems), [Erlenbach], 1924.

* (With El Lissitsky) Die Kunstismer: The Isms of Art, E. Rentsch, 1925, Ayer, 1968.

* Konfiguration, [Paris], 1930.

* Weisst du Schwartz du (poems), with illustrations by Max Ernst, [Zurich], 1930.

* Neue Franzosische Malerei, [Leipzig], 1931.

* (With Vicente Huidobro) Tres Novelas Ejemplares (novel), [Santiago], 1935, [Berlin], 1963.

* Des Taches dans le Vide (poems), [Paris], 1937.

* Sciure de Gamme (poems), [Paris], 1938.

* Muscheln und Schirme (poems), [Meudon], 1939.

* (Editor with others) Plastique, Nos. 1-5, 1939.

* Poemes sans prenoms (poems), [Grasse], 1941.

* Rire de Coquille (poems), [Amsterdam], 1944.

* 1924-1925-1926-1943: Gedichte (poems), [Bern], 1944.

* Le Blanc aux Pieds de Negre (prose poems), [Paris], 1945.

* (Self-illustrated) Le Siege de l'Air: Poemes, 1915-1945, Vrille, 1946.

* Monuments a lecher, [Paris], 1946.

* On My Way: Poetry and Essays, 1912-1947, edited by Robert Motherwell, Wittenborn, Schultz, 1948.

* Onze Peintres vus par Arp, [Zurich], 1949.

* Souffle (poems), [Ales], 1950.

* Auch das ist nur eine Wolke: Aus den Jahren, 1920-1950 (prose poems), [Basel], 1951, Pfullingen, 1960.

* Wegweiser Jalons, [Meudon], 1951.

* Die Engelsschrift (poems), [Tubingen], 1952.

* Dreams and Projects, Curt Valentin, 1952.

* Worttraeume und schwartze Sterne: Auswahl aus den Gedichten der Jahre, 1911-1952, [Wiesbaden], 1953.

* Behaarte Herzen, 1923-1926: Koenige vor der Sintflut, 1952-1953 (poems), [Frankfurt], 1953.

* Un jour des annees une vie, [Ales], 1955.

* Auf einem Bein (poems), [Wiesbaden], 1955.

* Arp Collages, [Paris], 1955.

* Unsern Taeglichen Traum. . . : Erinnerungen, Dichtungen, und Betrachtungen aus den Jahren, 1914-1954, [Zurich], 1955.

* Le Voilier dans la foret (poems), [Paris], 1957.

* Worte mit und ohne Anker (poems), [Wiesbaden], 1957.

* Notre petit continent, [Ales], 1958.

* (With others) Arp, edited and with an introduction by James Thrall Soby, Doubleday, 1958, Arno Press, 1980.

* Mondsand (poems and illustrations), G. Neske, 1959.

* Vers le blanc infini (poems and illustrations), La Rose des vents, 1960.

* Zweiklang Sophie Taeuber Arp Hans Arp, edited by Ernst Sheidegger, [Zurich], 1960.

* Fagel och Slips, [Malmo], 1961.

* Sinnende Flammen, [Zurich], 1961.

* Gesammelte Gedichte, three volumes, [Zurich], 1963-84.

* Logbuch des Traumkapitans (poems), Verlag die Arche, 1965.

* L'Ange et la rose (poems and designs), Robert Morel, 1965.

* Le Soleil recerle (poems), [Paris], 1966.

* Jours effeuilles: Poemes, essais, souvenirs, 1920-1965, edited by Marcel Jean Gallimard, 1966, translation published as Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories, Viking, 1971, published as Collected French Writings, Calder & Boyars, 1974, published as Arp: Collected French Writings, Riverrun Press, 1985.

* (With Paul Klee and Kurt Schwitters) Three Painter-Poets: Arp, Schwitters, Klee, Penguin, 1974.

* Hans Arp: The Graphic Work, G. Arntz-Winter, 1980.

* Ich bin in der Natur geboren: Ausgewaehlte Gedichte, edited by Hans Bolliger, Guido Magnaguagno and Harriett Watts, [Zurich], 1986.

* The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, edited by Robert Motherwell, critical bibliography by Bernard Karpel, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1989.

* Hans Arp, 1886-1965: Dada art concret, Graphisches Kabinett Kunsthandel Wolfgang Werner (Bremen, Germany), 1991.

* Hans Arp: die Metamorphose der Figur, Das Museum (Cologne, Germany), 1991.

* Ich bin in der Natur geboren: Gedichte, Luchterhand Literaturverlag (Hamburg, Germany), 1992.

* Phantastische Gebete, Anabas Verlag (Giessen), 1993.

* Hans Arp, 1886-1966: Ankaufe des Landes Rheinland-Pfalz, Das Landesmuseum (Mainz, Germany), 1997.

* (Beitragen von Walburga Krupp and Sonja Missfeldt) Hans/Jean Arp: Korrespondenz der Formen, Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen, Schloss Gottorf (Schleswig, Germany), 1999.

Also author of Chair de reve, 1915, and Auf verschleierten Schaukeln, 1955.

* (Illustrator) Richard Huelsenbeck, Phantastische Gebete (poems; title means "Fantastic Prayers"), W. Heuberger (Zurich), 1916.

Also author of Arp 1886-1966 and art catalog commentaries, sometimes under pseudonym Michel Seuphor. Also illustrator of books, including Bhagavad-Gita 1914; Tristan Tzara's books 25 Poemes, 1918, and Cinema Calendrier du Coeur Abstrait, 1920; and Camille Bryen's Temps Troue, 1951. Contributor of articles and poems to periodicals, including Dada, Die Schammade, Merz, Dada W/3, Das Neue Magazin, XX siecle, and transition.

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