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Karel Appel (Dutch, 1921-2006)


Also known as:  Appel, Christiaan Karel

Birth Place: Amsterdam

Karel Appel (April 25, 1921-May 3, 2006) was a Dutch painter, sculptor, and poet, whose work continues to inspire artists today. Born in Amsterdam, he began painting at fourteen years old and attended the school Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. He is most well-known for his expressionist paintings, creating vibrant figurative abstractions through aggressive brushstrokes, bold color, and use of thick impasto. During his career, Appel was heavily influenced by fellow artists Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Jean Dubuffet.

In 1946, Appel’s first solo exhibition was held at Het Beerenhuis in Groningen, Netherlands, and he also participated in Jonge Schilders (Young Painters) at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Appel became a member of the Nederlandse Experimentele Groep (Dutch Experimental Group) in 1948. He was also one of the most notable founding members of the experimental avant-garde group COBRA, which included Danish, Dutch, and Belgian artists active from 1948 through 1952. In addition to Appel, the other founding members of the group included artists Constant, Corneille, Christian Dotremont, Asger Jorn, and Joseph Noiret. The movement distinguished itself through bold, expressive compositions influenced by folk and children's art. Appel and his fellow COBRA members had a common desire to break away from the current art movements of the day and to create a new school of art that emphasized creative diversity.

In 1949, he notoriously completed a fresco entitled “Questioning Children” on the walls of the cafeteria at the city hall of Amsterdam, but Appel’s use of ‘childish’ folk imagery in the work caused so much controversy that the fresco was covered for ten years.

To escape the negative criticism, Appel moved to Paris in 1950 and began a new chapter in his artistic career. The writer Hugo Claus, who wrote the first major monograph on Appel in 1962, introduced him to art critic Michel Tapié, who became a champion for Appel and organized several exhibitions of the artist’s work.

In 1953, the Palais des beaux-arts in Brussels held a solo exhibition for Appel, and the following year he received the UNESCO Prize at the Venice Biennale. His first gallery show in the United States was held in 1954 at the Martha Jackson Gallery. In the late 1960s, the artist moved to the Chateau de Molesmes, near Auxerre, southeast of Paris. He completed numerous murals for public buildings throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1970, the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, Netherlands held a major show of the artist’s work, and a retrospective toured Canada and the United States in 1972.

At the end of his career, Appel was the subject of several solo exhibitions across the world. He passed away in Zurich on May 3, 2006.

As best described in his own words: ''To paint is to destroy what preceded. I never try to make a painting, but a chunk of life. It is a scream; it is a night; it is like a child; it is a tiger behind bars.”

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