Karel Appel was a renowned and notable Dutch Expressionist painter, sculptor, ceramicist and printmarker, who was an influential member of the famous European art society, COBRA. Appels’ works have been showcased at prestigious and notable art galleries all over the world including, Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Guggenheim Museum, the Tate Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston among many others.
Christiaan Karel Appel was born on April 25, 1921, in Amsterdam. His father, Jan Appel ran his own barbershop, while his mother, Johanna Chevalier was of French heritage. His first painting lessons came from his cherished and prosperous uncle, Karel Chevalier, who gifted him an easel and some paints for his 15th birthday.
In 1940, Karel began his artistic education at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. World War II had begun by this time and Amsterdam was under the Nazi occupation. During this time, Karel formed a close friendship with the notable painter, Corneille. Karel’s parents were not happy with his aspirations to become an artist as they wanted him to adopt a more secure and profitable profession. After a great dealing of quarrelling and persuading, Karel gave up and left home. Besides, it was essential for Karel to leave his home and go into hiding in order to avoid being picked up by the Nazi police and shipped off to Germany to work at an ammunition factory.
In 1946, Karel showcased his work at his first one-man show, which took place at Groningen, in the Netherlands. Karel also contributed his works at the Jonge Schilders exhibition which was held at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. His work created a fervour in the art societies of Europe, and several critics and press representatives were outraged and objected to his work being showcased.
His earliest paintings exhibit an influence of great artists such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Jean Dubuffet. In 1947, he began experimenting sculptures with used material and bright, exuberant colors such as black, red, blue and yellow. He was accepted in to the Nederlandse Experimentele Group in Holland. The next year, he became a member of the prestigious art organization, COBRA, a movement that encouraged bold and free expression and abstracts.
During this period, Karel’s work began depicting scenes of Danish culture and Nordic mythology, and in 1949, he was commissioned to paint a mural for the city hall in Amsterdam. His mural, ‘Questioning Children’, adorned the walls of the cafeteria of the city hall, and depicted smiling yet unhappy children orphaned by the tragic war. The mural, although applauded for its intense expression of the plight of the children, created much distress and controversy that it remained covered for almost ten years.
Disappointed and dejected by the feedback in his native country, Karel decided to move to Paris. In 1950, he began travelling the world extensively and showcasing his work in the US, Brazil, Mexico and Yugoslavia. During the 1950s, Karel developed a passion for Jazz, and he painted several portraits of renowned Jazz artists such as Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie. In 1954, he participated at the Venice Biennale and was awarded the UNESCO prize.
Karel Appel passed away on May 3, 2006, in Zurich, Switzerland. Some of his best known works include, ‘Head in a Colourful Landscape’, ‘Questioning Children’, ‘Hip, Hip, Hoorah!’, ‘Amorous Dance’ and ‘People, Birds and Sun’ among many others.