Jean Arp

Jean Arp

Hans Arp (or Jean Arp) was an outstanding German-French sculptor, painter, poet and abstract artist, one of the brightest representatives of Dadaist movement.

Early years

Hans Arp was born on September 16, 1886 in Strasbourg, which belonged to German Empire at that time, in a German-French family (that’s why he has two variants of his name). His father was an owner of a cigar factory. Arp attended local art school (the Kunstschule) and took some lessons from the painter and printmaker Georges Ritleng.

In 1904 Hans enrolled the Kunstschule in Weimar, where he got acquainted with numerous emerging at that time modernistic tendencies, particularly Neoimpressionism. Not much his pieces from that time survived – some nude drawings, watercolor landscape, self-portrait (1904) and sculpture “Head” (1903).

During Weimar period Arp became friends with Henry van de Velde – one of the main Art Nouveau artists and designers in Belgium. Van de Velde organized his first exhibition in 1907, at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris, together with Henri Matisse, Paul Signac and Kees van Dongen. Tempted with the atmosphere of the world’s artistic center of 1900s, the young man left for the Parisian Académie Julian in 1908, yet he studied there only for a year and moved to Weggis in Switzerland, where he trained in work with plaster under the guidance of Fritz Huf.

In Weggis Arp took part in founding of “Der Moderne Bund” group and displayed his works at their exhibitions. In Munich he met Wassiliy Kandinsky, who invited him to exhibit together with “Der Blaue Reiter” group (Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Kandinsky, Klee, Marc and Münter). Apart from that Hans wrote for “Der Sturm” magazine in 1912. Works of early 10s (when Arp painted most actively) demonstrate influence of Paul Cezanne’s protocubistic principles (“Three Women”, 1912).

During World War I

To escape from conscription in Germany, the artist left for Paris in 1914. There he became acquainted with Max Jacob, Amedeo Modigliani, Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso. In 1915 he returned to neutral Switzerland. In November of the same year, Arp had an exhibition in Tanner gallery together with Otto and Ayda van Rees. During it he met Sophie Taeuber, with whom he would marry in 1922. Her style was really close to abstractionism – that prompted Hans to create his first geometrized collages, tapestries and abstract compositions (“Static composition”, 1915).

The master himself wrote about their cooperation with Sophie and their approaching to abstraction in their works: “Sophie Taeuber and me painted, embroidered and stuck in the year 1915 pictures, which were probably the first works of “concrete art”. These works are independent, independent “realities”. They do not have a rational sense; they do not rise from the seizable reality. We rejected everything that could be imitation or description, in order to let the elementary and spontaneous one in us freely work”.

Dada period

In 1916 Hans Arp co-founded Dadaist movement together with Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball and Richard Huelsenbeck. Café “Voltaire” was their meeting point, where they organized their performances and cabarets. The artist illustrated “25 poems” by Tzara and completed a series of abstract engravings. At the same time he experiments with wooden reliefs (“Flower-hammer”, 1916 – 1917) and woodcut prints. His collages are defined by accent on geometrization of forms, organized in quite liberate design.

Dada was the soil for shaping up personal artist’s style, based on biomorphic forms and principle of spontaneity, chance. Hans Richter described that Arp invented the technique of compositions from randomly arranged torn paper: he was unsatisfied with a drawing, tore it up. Pieces of paper formed an interesting pattern that struck him: “Not beeing successfull before, the chance/coincidence causes movement of the hand and the movement of the fluttering pieces of paper for a strong expression. He took up this challenge of chance/coincidence and stuck carefully the pieces in the order, which was determined by the coincidence”. “According to the Laws of Chance” series was rendered applying that method.

Despite that, as it’s known, Zurich Dadaists were not unified in their attitude towards art and definition of Dada, and there were various controversies between occasionally emerging sub-groups inside it (especially after Ball had decided to keep aloof from the movement), Arp managed to keep friendly relations with all his companions from cabaret “Voltaire”.

He treated Dada very seriously but, if to believe words of Hans Richter, always retained hidden, almost unnoticeable, distance from it and could even laugh at it with pleasure. By the end of the war, Hans expanded connections with other Dadaists: with Max Ernst and Johannes Theodor Baargeld he organized Dada-group in Cologne and encountered with more politically-oriented Berlin Dadaism, headed by Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch e Johannes Bader and, thanks to his fellowship with Tristan Tzara and Francis Picabia, with Parisian Dadaistic circles, represented by André Breton, Paul Éluard e Louis Aragon.

Surrealistic period

After being announced person non grata in Switzerland, in 1926 Arp set off for France, where lived in Paris and Meudon and obtained citizenship in a year. The second half of 1920s was marked by active cooperation with Surrealist group in Paris and constructivists, writing for Dutch magazine “De Stijl”. His first solo exhibition took place at the gallery of Pierre Loeb, in 1927. Hans Arp continued his previous tendencies using biomorphic forms, taking them out of their traditional context, splitting and modifying into unrealistic objects, like we can see in his “Torso, Navel, Mustache-Flower” (1930).

Although the master paid more attention to sculpture at that period, since 1931 he continued making collages and experimenting with graphical materials. Arp, Sophie Taeuber and Theo van Doesburg they painted murals in the Aubette in Strasbourg (1926 – 1928). At the beginning of 1930s a series of abstract “papiers dechires” were created, witnessing the organic connection between Dadaism and Surrealism, as the latter inherited interest towards absurdity, irrationalism and protest against traditionalism.

Arp broke up with Surrealistic group in 1934, tired of intrigues inside it. In 1937, he joined the Allianz movement, established by his friend Max Bill. During last years of 1930s Hans switched from reliefs to sculptures in the round, yet preserving his style and creative conceptions (“Pre-Adamic Fruit”, 1938).


In 1940 Hans Arp together with his wife managed to escape from Paris before the intervention of German troops, to the South of France – the town of Grasse, on French Riviera, where they worked together with friends Alberto and Susi Magnelli. The artist managed to benefit even in the situation of lack of materials: he made tiny sculptures and reliefs from marble scrap, painted with hand directly on paper or carton, draw crumpled sheets, painted on china with gouache. When all hopes to shelter in the USA vanished, the Arps decided to move to Switzerland in 1942. By the end of the World War II Hans returned to Paris, where he publishe his first antology of poetry, titled “Le Siège de l’air”.

Works in graphic and decorative arts

Right till his death Hans Arp continued working in graphic arts in etching and xylography techniques. As well, as in sculpture, the visual language of his woodcut prints balance between pure abstraction and morphology of existing objects ( “Palette des Nuages Noire, Horizontal – Cloud Palette-Black”, 1950, “Soleil Recerclé No 8. Around the Sun No 8.”,1962). He illustrated his own texts as well.

Remembering of his beloved wife, who had been actively engaged in decorative arts, the artist produced designs for tapestries (“Nadir”, 1960). His heritage is presented especially fully in the collections of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Castello Viscontieo in Locarno. There’s the Arp’s Foundation in Clamart near Paris.


Arp’s oeuvre wasn’t limited with Dadaism, but would be wrong to reject the fact, that it was Arp-dadaist, who contributed most into the development of vanguard art of the 20th cent. Hans Arp, as artist and poet felt that only new visual forms and means could reflect the reality of the “upturned world” (verkehrte Welt).