Karel Appel, Nude Series #19, 1985, Acryl and oilstick on paper, 211 x 153 cm, © Karel Appel Foundation, Amsterdam.
Karel Appel, Nude Series #12, 1985, Acryl and oilstick on paper, 261 x 154 cm, © Karel Appel Foundation, Amsterdam.
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December 7, 2007-
February 3, 2008
Appel was one of the founders of CoBrA, a group of artists formed in Paris in 1948, whose paintings represent a new expressive figuration. In Appel’s works rationality and emotion are intertwined, as are abstraction and figuration. Powerful colours and gestural painting also characterise his important drawings. In 1960 Karel Appel received the International Award of the Guggenheim Foundation. As a citizen of the world and self-proclaimed "man without a country", he lived and worked in New York, Paris and Monaco.
Born Christiaan Karel Appel in his parents' house at 7 Dapperstraat, Amsterdam. On the ground floor, his father, Jan Appel, had a barber shop. His mother, born Johanna Chevalier, was a descendant of French Huguenots. He had three brothers.
At 14, Appel produced his first real painting, on canvas, a still life of a fruit basket. For his 15th birthday, his wealthy uncle Karel Chevalier gave him a paint set and an easel. An avid amateur painter himself, Chevalier gave his namesake some lessons in painting.
He studied at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten there from 1940 to 1943 and had his first show in Groningen in 1946. He was influenced by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Jean Dubuffet.
Karel Appel met Corneille in the years 1940-1943 during his education at the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam. In 1946 he travelled with him to Liège, where the pair held a joint exhibition in 1947. He also made a visit to Paris with Corneille. On his return he got to know Constant, and in 1948 the three of them exhibited in Amsterdam.
Appel, Corneille and Constant together with Anton Rooskens, Theo Wolvecamp and Jan Nieuwenhuys (Constant's brother) formed the Dutch Experimental Group on 16 July 1948. Appel was a co-founder of CoBrA on 8 November 1948, and he is probably the best known member of the movement in the Netherlands.
He became famous above all for his credo "I just mess around at it." His work created a great deal of uproar in the Dutch art world of the 1940s and 1950s. Indeed, his 1949 mural Questioning children in the cafeteria of Amsterdam Town Hall created quite a scandal. At the insistence of the indignant civil servants, the City Council had this "Appel of discord" covered up, and the work of art disappeared under wallpaper for ten years.
Appel always favoured the call to direct expression in paint, rather than the Marxist analysis of Western civilisation put forward by Constant; he never paid much attention to the theoretical pamphlets of Constant and Dotremont. During the CoBrA years he painted innocent child creatures and fabulous beasts in bright colours, simple forms and bold lines.
After the break-up of CoBrA he managed to maintain the emotional approach to his subject. In the course of the 1950s he developed a heavier painting style, with line and areas of colour melting together into a moving mass of paint. In addition to painting the versatile Appel made assemblages and sculptures, and also wrote poetry. Until his death, on May 3, 2006, in Zurich, Karel Appel stayed the hard working, almost obsessed painter he always was.
As a result of this controversy Appel moved to Paris in 1950. He developed an international reputation, traveling to Mexico, the USA, Yugoslavia and Brazil. He is particularly noted for his mural work. He lived between New York and Florence and died May 3, 2006 in Zürich, where he was living at the time. He is buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.